PWB Salone: The main tour might well be over, but there’s always time for some more fun in the sun! Our final few weeks in Sierra Leone through the eyes of Kay-T :)

March 14, 2014

Pujehun – 28th Feb to 3rd March

Our wonderful, epic tour of Sierra Leone ended its journey in Pujehun. A town first described to us by Augustus, head of the children’s club as a place ‘suffering from depression and full of ex-child soldiers.’ He was very keen to explain these children needed life skills and distractions from their tough and troubled lives…what better than to bring the Circus to town?! On first impressions the town seemed pretty bleak. The sky was grey, everything was run down and it felt empty and low; somehow missing the buzz other towns and villages have had. However first impressions really count for nothing and after two wonderful afternoons with the children, a shopping resulting in an amazing Chop My Money cap and funky trousers, plus a good nights sleeps and delicious food, I definitely warmed to Pujehun.

(You should probably know at this point I love buying hats. With me I packed a pink panda cap, an umberella hat and a jazzy swimming hat and on our travels here I have added a visor with a fish called Orvis on it, a cap so colourful it looks like multi-coloured sick according to Peachi and now my Chop My Money hat. Imagine how big Gangnam style is, add more popularity on and you have Chop My Money…it’s literally being played everywhere and I’m pleased to say I now see myself as the coolest kid in school!)

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I think we can all agree on how great I look…!

We were staying in the luxury of the Save the Children guest house, a place with real walls and en-suites and bread and light switches…all rarities after our time in the wilderness. Lulled into a false sense of security, Emma and I were shocked and terrified when a huge spider ran across us inside the mosquito net. After nuking it with bug spray and stinking the room out we retired to the safety of Emma’s room, still not cured of our arachnophobia even after sharing a room with all sorts of creepies in tiny mud huts!!Image

Our teaching schedule was arranged to be 2 afternoons with the potential of 1000 children turning up as it had been advertised to every school, community group and even on the radio! After a crisis meeting and a change of teaching plan we were ready to take the leap from our usual class size of 20/30 up into the hundreds. We set up a stage under the cover of a concrete area of the local football pitch and had microphones and speakers in order to reach the masses. Augustus had arranged for 4 police men to come along for crowd control- their presence made me somewhat apprehensive about what we were going to be faced with and the task we were taking on. However as usual everything went swimmingly and a great time was had by all! At least 250 people turned up although we maintain we could have dealt with 1000 easy (haha!) and we played a range of games, Kay-T-robics, (one of the funniest things ever to see 250 African children doing aerobics!) European dance and Cultural dance. Afterwards we did a show and were met with slightly confused but still happy faces, unsure of what to make of us! We did the same the next day but with an extra circus workshop first for the members of the children’s club. We were assured they’d be 40 children and over 70 children later packed into the Save the Children car park. We had ALL of our equipment out being thrown, spun and caught in a whirlwind of happy rainbow joy! AKA mayhem!

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Emma rocking the Britney mic!

Because the children’s club is so much about educating and learning, we developed our cultural dance in the show to include a story with a message at the beginning. After establishing Brima and Morlai meant an anti-abomination message not an abomination message like they kept saying, we were ready to go! We all had our part to play; Livi the washer woman, me the one who tries to help her but gets ignored, Tim the evil voo-doo spirit killer (typecast!) and Emma & Morlai the ones who manage to stop Tim taking over the world. The basic moral of the story was don’t’ wash your clothes in the sacred river or an evil spirit will come and kill you…so watch out ok, you have been warned! I could see 4 or 5 old ladies in the audience as we were performing who loved the message. They were nodding and smiling, their faces lit up and it was so encouraging to see! I really love the elders here, have so much wisdom and are so beautiful…I think I’d take anything they told me as fact!

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Augustus was extremely happy and it was clear the children of Pujehun had had a wonderful time. At the end of our last show Augustus got on stage with some of the other Save the Children youth leaders and they were dancing and singing and generally being very silly. That was amazing for us to see because so often we have come up against adults who won’t be silly or even let the children laugh and joke around in our classes. We were pleased to see he was on the same wave length as us and glad the children are in his capable hands!

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Adults dancing…what a rarity in Sierra Leone!

 

Back in Freetown, ready for action! 4th March onwards

After a relaxing day at the beach and a dinner wholly consisting of pancakes, we were settled back in Freetown! Our next stop off was to two of the nearby slums that Save the Children work with. It was quite exciting and a part I’d been really looking forward too. I’ve never been to a slum before anywhere in the world, so had no idea of the reality of it. I only really knew to wear real shoes, not go to the toilet there and to watch where you’re walking. I was expecting it to be very crowded, smelly, dirty and poor, (which goes without saying) but with a buzz about it and an excitement and willingness to welcome us and see what we had to offer. In hindsight what I was expecting was spot on.

Slum 1 – Susan’s Bay

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Brima the ringmaster

I woke up as we were unpacking the car and before I knew it was following a line of people with our stuff expertly balanced on their heads through an extremely narrow, crowded street. There were stalls selling food, milk powder, soap on each side; a dribble of presumably sewage running down the centre and no room for a car and row of people- hence I ended up standing over a tub of scouring pads, in someone’s stall with a dried fish tail in my face! We kept moving up hill which then opened onto a plain with the most incredible view on every side of the slum rooftops, the markets, Freetown in the distance and straight ahead the endless sea. We then carried on down again through a football pitch and onto a clear, flat space clearly designated for us because there were hundreds of chairs set out, seating mostly adults at this stage excitedly expecting a great performance! By the sound of their cheers (by the time we started all of the children from the youth group had turned up along with many, many more!)  we gave a good show that they really, really enjoyed. For me it was one of the most rewarding shows we have done in a while because the response was so vocally positive. We gave it our all and even when the generator cut out we continued to the sweet sounds of Brima’s drumming. 2 hours later we were packed up and gone, leaving excited chatter and many happy faces behind…definitely an afternoon well spent!

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Slum 2- Kroo Bay

Faced with a huge and ever growing crowd of new faces we set up for our Kroo Bay show in record time. We were stationed on the impressively large and flat football pitch and with Emma warming up the crowd we were ready to go!

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5 things that made this show different to any we have done before

  1. There was a pig on stage that somewhat enhanced mine and Emma’s puppet dance!
  2. 4 ladies with HUGE stacks of coal on their heads were in the audience.
  3. Some dog friends also graced our stage with their presence.
  4. Tim got a healthy mix of sun cream, sweat and strong sunlight in his eyes making it his (quote) ‘Most challenging juggling routine to date’ (unquote)
  5. The football pitch was being hosed down 3 meters from our fire routine and very nearly all over the electrical equipment!

Another successful show in our books!!

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PIG!

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Audience with better balancing skills than us!

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AMAZING

 

Freetown Outreach 11th-14th March

After having a relaxing weekend exploring Cockle Point and having a well-deserved chill-out, we were refreshed and ready for action! On Tuesday morning we headed to a school by Lumley beach to do a workshop and show so once again we packed up the car and off we went! Our friend Craig who has been extremely helpful during our fundraising works there and so we went specifically to teach his form group, much to the excitement of them and the bemusement of their fellow students! The school itself was a typical Sierra Leone government school; tiny hot classrooms, a lack of teachers, no way of maintaining and sort of privacy or safety as the site isn’t enclosed and minimal (none) hygiene facilities. I was expecting it to be manic and although I didn’t see a single class being taught all morning (even with exams next week!) we were made very welcome and had a really great time. Half of the class did circus, half European dance then they switched over. They loved all of the toys and were so engaged in both classes, they really were a pleasure to teach especially as they clearly got so much joy from joining in. The show was incredible; we all got a real buzz from it because the audience were so vocal and genuinely very impressed! There was no generator so we had to use our tiny mini rigs and the mats were so hot our feet were burning like running along hot sand at midday…BUT it was well worth having red soles on our feet because we bought so much happiness to the school and especially Craig’s form group!

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In the evening we headed to the Cultural Village where Brima, Morlai, Tessay and Mummy live for a performance swap and in my opinion it was the most exhilarating show we have done! The whole village came into the performance area to watch so it was packed out full of dancing children and eager adults awaiting the show! The cultural group opened the show with the most incredible drumming I have ever heard. The sound was so full and vibrant; they had 3 drummers out front who were not only drumming but performing with their whole body and faces which made it so engaging to watch, at least 4 big bass drums and 2 huge wooden xylophones to add melody and like I said the sound was just insane. Then when the dancers came out the energy went through the roof, it’s so hard to explain the feeling it evoked but I can say I felt so honoured to be there and especially honoured to have worked with them and got to know them, I was beaming from ear to ear as I watched! Next it was our turn and boosted by the energy in the room (well, there were no walls so almost a room!) we gave our absolute all and the audience loved it! I got the feeling they were overwhelmed by the diversity of our show but in a really positive way. They especially loved the fire and it was so lovely to see the national guys we have been working with get to perform their new skills in front of their family and friends. We had the best evening and all came away with a great moral boost and all feeling fantastic!

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Wednesday came and bought with it a very poorly Livi and Emma, but luckily Tim and I were still going strong so we poodled off for our day of teaching somewhat diminished in numbers! We headed back to Susans Bay to work with a charity called Goal who work to bring street children off the street and rehabilitate them with family; whether that be parents, siblings or more extended family. Quite often these children are being exploited for work and sex and all of the children we were going to work with still lived on the street and just came into the centre 3 hours a day. They got some schooling, activities, a safe place to go and a hot meal which is great but to me horrific to think after that time they are heading back onto the street. It usually takes 3 months to get a child rehabilitated; after 1 month or so of coming to the centre they start telling the staff their real story, what is actually happening to them not just a brush over missing out the key facts. It’s only then the staff can start to find their relatives, a seemingly impossible task in a country where no-one has an address and people can easily disappear into the woodwork. The children we worked with were reaching the end of their 3 months and so nearing rehabilitation and it was clear how much of a difference Goal has made to them. They were engaged, eager, happy and extremely friendly and polite. I must admit I was very apprehensive about the teaching because everywhere we have worked so far the children have been relatively sheltered, very well looked after and monitored 24/7 so there is a huge degree of control but obviously these children don’t have that structure but as soon as my first class of beaming, excited children ran into my teaching space I knew we’d be absolutely fine! The national guys came along too so we taught drumming, cultural African dance, circus and European dance so the children got a really wide mix of skills and had a fantastic day, just as I did too!

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With that our final workshop was complete and the evening led to a wonderful show at Atlantic Bar in Freetown; a great turn out of all our friends we met back many weeks ago during our Freetown Bootcamp came to support us, the backdrop for the show was incredibly beautiful with lit palm trees and the vast sea spanning out and as we watched slideshows of photos and expertly edited videos (well done Emma!) we all felt very emotional but proud of the journey we have completed together. We had a lot of fun during the show, shaking it up a bit by adding impro skits, sabotaging each other’s acts, and generally having a lovely time! After a wonderful party we called it a night, comforted by the knowledge we have completed what we came out here to do and had a ball doing it!!!

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What a fantastic backdrop for our show!

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Team shoelace!!!

Next stop, Lumley Airport…we’ll be back, I’m sure of it 🙂

We’d like to say a big shout out to the teams in India and Nicaragua…all the best for the rest of your tours guys and we’ll say hi to England for you!!! See you on the other side 🙂

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Farewell shinanigans

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Big love for Emma, Morlai, Livi, Brima, Katie, Mummy and Tim 🙂

By Kay-T, thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed it 🙂 

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Hey ho, team Salone went to Bo! 18th – 22nd Feb :)

March 7, 2014

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I knew Bo would be good fun from the offset….I mean seeing a guy on an okada wearing a Santa hat in the mid-day African heat HAS to be a positive thing right??!

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Impromptu workshop during our stop off in Makeni much to the excitement of the children!

Due to issues with non-appearing transport (West Africa Wins Again..) instead of travelling to Bo on the Sunday as scheduled, we ended up surprising the kids in Makeni by turning up unannounced hoping that they wouldn’t mind if we stayed the night. Even though we were sad not to have made it to Bo in time, the kids excitement in seeing us was overwhelming and so sweet. They all ran up to the car and it was hugs all round! Not only was it a fantastic feeling the old ego, but it means PWB is really working out here and that we are doing our job well!

When we finally arrived in Bo we were welcomed with loving open arms!! Well, we were by the groundskeepers and children and orphanage leader and after a frosty welcome from the headteacher of the school it transpired he thought us Brits were going to try and take over and ‘teach all us African’s how to dance!’ After gently explaining this wasn’t the case we finally got him on our side and arranged a schedule that involved spending the morning with the drama group and the afternoons with the orphans.

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We did an assembly at the orphanage and they were delighted and excited to have us to stay, everywhere we have been we’ve always had a great response but it’s Tim’s contact ball that really gets them going…it’s so amazing to see them getting inspired and eager to learn. It makes our job so much more satisfying, and helps us get through those tired or extra long days!

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After our first day of workshops (all received brilliantly) we realised our equipment needed a well deserved sort out. So, after a meal of dried fish, cold chips and fried plantain (a meal which continued to haunt us for the whole of our Bo trip!) we got on re-counting and packing and making some more juggling balls! 2 hours later we had a perfectly organised, ready to go kit bag, 12 new juggling balls and a beach-worth of sand all over our the floor of our lovely guest house…whoops!

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Brima and Tim have a little bromance going on 🙂

Our time in Bo seen through my eyes…well and a lens. Sometimes pictures speak louder than words.

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This little lady was ALWAYS in the front row giving it her all 🙂 She was a talented young dancer and thrived off learning the European routine.

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Great pose 🙂

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Emma’s improv….a great way to break down barriers and let the children see us as adults they can have fun with, something that seems to be very rare here in Sierra Leone.

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The football pitch became our designated teaching area. One third for circus, one third for cultural dance/drumming and another third for European dance. It was a massive hub of excited children. I’ve never seen so many toys flying around and so much happy laughter!

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Shout if you wanna go higher!!

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Well how can you resist when there’s a playground right outside your bedroom?!

Showtime!

Our couple of days in Bo absolutely flew by…it turned out we couldn’t teach on the Friday because the school had a prize giving ceremony which we were invited to attend and perform at. The stage was extremely rickety and after sitting through what felt like endless names of award-winning students and some rather amusing French plays where one shared microphone was snatched mid sentence from character to character, it was finally our turn. The younger children started off by performing Emma’s ‘European’ dance and they were fantastic! They’d only practised for 3 hours plus a sneaky go before the show but they nailed it, we were very proud 🙂 Then the older guys and girls performed a cultural dance taught to them by Brima and Morlai which was also great. They had made a real effort with their matching lapas and face/body paint so they looked so professional and were clearly very proud to show off what they had learnt! The audience responded very well to them with whoops and cheers, and although slightly apprehensive they also enjoyed the short show put on by us. I’d count it as a successful show purely because no-one fell off or through the stage haha!

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Our last night in Bo came about too quickly and we treated the orphans to a fire show which they absolutely loved! Unlike the school who had seemed a bit quiet during our show in the assembly, the orphanage kids were one of our loudest audience yet. It’s interesting how much of a difference it makes in how the children react to a performance after we’ve spent a week working with them. At the end of our fire show as a special treat, Peachi left the generator on and got out his flashing disco lights (not a euphemism). The whole orphanage went absolutely crazy as they danced their hearts out to the 4 West African tracks that we had -on repeat for 2 hours. The PWB had to dance in shifts; a sort of African disco relay team! They had way more stamina than us for sure! When we began to wind it down, they kept shouting “Please come back! Please come back’ which I’m pretty sure means they enjoyed themselves! Yet another confirmation that we’re doing what we came out to do 🙂

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FIIIIRRRREEEEEE!!!!

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A great time was had by all in Bo!

By Kay-T and Emma 🙂


Kamakwei HEY!!!

February 20, 2014

I am sat on the balcony of our house in Kamakwei; children playing, a house being built, the well being used and all surrounded with lush greenery accompanied by the sound of distant roads and chattering voices. THIS is what I thought Africa would be like. (I’ll ignore the very loud chainsaw in the distance for the purpose of trying to set a lovely image for you all!)

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Collecting water is easy when you have a band of very willing little helpers!

We are now a far cry from air conditioning, electricity, shops selling more than the essentials and of course cold water. We have 4 rooms between us and after multiple trips to the well are all set with everything we need! Cockroach and lizard pets included. Our host family cooked for us the night we arrived…rice, cassava leaves and groundnut soup and although delicious it did blow our heads off! For the rest of the week Peachi is mother hen to us chicks, making sure we are fed and watered. He nearly blew his hands off trying to light the outdoor stove with kerosene until Mumma Jebe stopped laughing long enough to help him out…it’s all going very well!

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Oh my goodness me, it’s a white man cooking!!

The orphanage funded by Australian charity Orphfund is a short and wonderful walk away through palm trees, villages and lush greenery just past the local secondary school. The orphanage shares a sight with the primary school and there are 30 children living there. I was shocked to see their rooms after expecting a similarity to SOS Makeni. Here they are lucky if they have a mattress, even then they are thin and mouldy. It is more run down and dirty and the rooms have small piles of clothes dotted around the edges. They seem cramped but nonetheless extremely happy and grateful for what they do have. With so few belongings they take HUGE pride in going to school and their uniform, perhaps aided by the knowledge they’ll get a flogging if they are late or untidy. As we have found throughout our tour the Mothers and Aunties are big hearted and extremely kind, they have jolly personalities and are highly respected by the children. We had a wonderful welcome with singing and dancing, a great start to a wonderful week.

This week our focus has been different to before. Our aim is to create a show for the children to perform in followed by our acts then a fire finale. The orphans have been like sponges, soaking up everything we have taught them and they really have been a pleasure to teach. We have a booty shaking Beyonce number that ALWAYS ends with a dance off, 2 action packed cultural dances and enough circus skills to tour the world! As we have been able to teach every child once a day their skills have rocketed. There is a very talented bunch of hoopers, the diabolo spinners have mastered over the leg throws and the trampoline trick and one boy who had never juggled before is now mastering 4 balls! Now if that isn’t a success I don’t know what is.

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Circus Skills

Thursday was a real treat. We performed for the secondary school in their morning assembly to advertise the show and were met with big whoops and cheers! We were no longer the strange white people walking past their school every day and instead the travelling circus coming to town!

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Livi hooping!

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We had a following of drumming children, it was great!

After a successful teaching day we marched into town with music blaring, flyers to hand out, circus toys and an ever growing entourage of excited children. (Later, after explaining the story to Brima and Morlai we all agreed we were like the Pied Piper of Hamlet!) We paraded through the town announcing the show and doing impromptu flash mobs…we even did a mini show for the Paramount Chief of Kamakwei and his family. Such a lovely moment to see 100 plus children making a huge circle outside his front door and their grinning faces as we juggled, hooped and danced. The Chief was amazed by the whole affair, he was so lovely and welcoming and promised to be our guest of honour on Saturday. It was a surreal moment but we all left upbeat, energised and very, very happy.

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Tim juggling in the parade.

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Tim, Livi, Emma, me and Brima with the Paramount Chief of Kamakwei!

Friday came round surprisingly quickly and we spend the day polishing off the routines and finalising running orders with the children. We had a well-earned night out at a very surreal Beauty Pageant in the town hall to celebrate Valentine’s Day, which is unexpectedly a huge deal amongst the youth of Kamakwei. We played how many Africans does it take to change a light bulb and enjoyed the guy selling eggs at the disco. Three hours later we had seen the dimly lit silhouette of 2 contestants and decided to call it a night.

The show on Saturday was AMAZING! We turned up at the orphanage (after me and Emma had spent the morning getting African braids and new visors!) to see all of the children washed, dressed in matching outfits and ready to go! As soon as we had parked the car, all the little ones came flying at us, and it was cuddles all round. The older girls followed, so excited to show us their beaded hair and special costumes. It was great to see them so amped and excited for the show, it really made it clear why we are here doing what we’re doing. To be able to support a performance for kids like the ones in Kamakwei that have so little, was incredible. The excitement that came from knowing that the whole village had come to their home, to see THEM radiated off every single smiley face.

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The girls made so much effort with their costumes and face paint, they looked incredible!

After starting with not much more than a big, dusty field, we soon had a stage with backdrop, a huge backstage area, seating, lights, music rigged up, flooring and 40 children in their costumes, faces and bodies painted – knowing exactly where, when and how to come on and off stage. Then when the audience were seated (with the Paramount Chief right at the front), it was showtime!

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The boys were really excited to perform!

Opened by the youngest orphans singing a welcome song, the show got into full swing much to the amazement of the crowd who had clearly never seen anything like it before!! The children did so well and got a real buzz off performing. We did all of our regular acts and finished with a fire show, but it was so refreshing for the focus to be on the children and their achievements rather than on us. A great night was had by all and we were all ready for bed after a rewarding and challenging week in Kamakwei. 

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Goodbye everyone!

10 Things I love about Kamakwei

  1. Not being able to tell the difference between tan lines and dirt
  2. Being local celebrities
  3. Hair braiding
  4. Being laughed at for washing up wrong, Peachi being white & cooking and clothes washing too slowly.
  5.  Having hoards of children help us get water from the well.
  6. The hat shop and cold drink shop in town.
  7. Pointing at invisible things in the distance to confuse children.
  8. The excitement from the children at an empty water bottle.
  9. The confused cockerel and baby chicks.
  10. Tim’s new hat and sandals.

1 Thing I hate about Kamakwei

  1. Someone keeps stealing my soap.

By Kay-T 


SALONE TEAM- Questions about socks, moles, beards and husbands. AKA the confusion that white people caused children at SOS Lumley and SOS Makeni

February 17, 2014

27th-31st January

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.Image 

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.

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Doing our cultural dance

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…

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Practicing the essential skill of moustache balancing with the younger groups

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. 

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Cultural dancing

 

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.

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All smiles at Don Bosco

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.

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Brima and his padiddle act (spinning trays) wowed the kindergartners!

On Monday morning, we did two performances; one for Kindergarten and one for the school. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Marco Polo with afros!

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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 🙂


Cabaret means something different in Lebanon…The second blog from team Sierra Leone

January 30, 2014

Written on 26/01/2014 (sorry it’s taken a few days to post!)

Sweaty boot camp and African booty dance…

It’s incredible; 24 hours ago we were shaking, boogying and basically having an awesome time performing in the PWB/PeWiBo cultural fusion cabaret show! Even more amazing is that a week ago we were 8 performers on a beach with a bunch of toys and definitely no show.

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The journey we have all taken from then to now has been a roller coaster of sweaty training, sewing costumes, making fire toys and promoting the show. We turned our beautiful patio in the Save the Children complex into a training space with mats, cool beverages and lots and lots of circus toys. This happened after it became apparent the beach is no place to create a showtoo much sand in the pants for successfully completing any sort of acro move! We spent the mornings training just us 4; Tim, Livi and I creating a trio comedy juggling piece, Emma working on her jazz and contemporary dances, plus lots of playing, stretching and the odd sit-up if the mood took us!

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In the afternoons we were joined by Brima, Morlai, Mummy and Tessay, 4 national performers from the cultural dance troupe. It was so special to spend this time together, not only could we swap ideas, training methods, routines and styles but it really helped us bond as a team and that training time seemed to become really important to everyone as the week went on. Because of that the quality of our work got higher and we all got a real buzz from training and working together.Image

Amongst training we also took a few trips to the local Universal Radio station, thanks to our keen promo organiser Emma and her bubbly, outgoing approach to life which led the big boss (an oversized character of a man who swaggered about ordering around his minions) to invite us onto the show. We were guests during the news on Tuesday morning in-between lots of Bob Marley tunes and angry sounding interviews with various people, then the next day got an hour long slot which allowed us to basically answer the same questions multiple times in as many different ways as possible! We had a competition to win 2 free tickets for the show (the winner did come along but sadly on his own and slightly drunk, but hey he seemed pleased to be there!) and we had over 60 texts asking a variety of seemingly random questions. The best one was ‘I don’t believe it; I think it’s a myth. Please tell me is it really true white man can dance with fire?’ to which Emma expertly answered in a suspenseful tone ‘I can exclusively reveal, here on Universal radio that white men CAN in fact dance with fire!’ Upon being asked for a closing statement I shamelessly blurted out ‘I love Universal radio, really I wish I could listen to it all the time, even in the UK!’ Ok, I’ll admit it, I’ll say anything for a bit of free publicity 🙂Image

For me the real gem of the week was performing at the American School. We were invited by a friend and teacher there to perform a few tricks and hand out flyers in their assembly as a lead up to the show. The warm welcome and positive reaction of the children was incredible and gave us the boost we needed after training so hard all week that the show might in fact actually be a success! A thought I at least hadn’t allowed myself the luxury of thinking during the whirlwind of boot camp. It was hot and we were very sweaty (sorry, common theme occurring!) but the delighted children still swarmed usquestions to Tim about his INCREDIBLE contact ball, awe at Livi’s hoop skills and very funky stripy jacket and a particularly cute boy too shy to look us in the eye so instead very timidly reading questions from his schoolbookADORABLE! The best for me though was in regards to mine and Emma’s ‘Puppet dance’ in which I manipulate her like she’s on strings. Firstly the children find it hilarious that she can’t stand up right then a tiny blonde girl toddled up to us and very seriously asked if there were real strings on Emma. Of course she said yes and proceeded to be dragged around the playground by her ‘strings’ and as the little girls new favourite toy 🙂 I love children’s endless imagination and was so glad we had managed to tap into at least one child’s sense of play.

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It’s show time!

Saturday arrived and with 2 cars packed full to the brim we trundled along to the British Council. Usually I don’t like car journeys but here I love having the window open, the breeze in my face, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of this still very confusing yet wonderful place. Sadly this car had air con so I had to shut the window and take the opportunity to have a little nap instead ;P

The space at the British Council was great, a big plywood stage (with only 2 or 3 holes in it to gaffer over!) a huge auditorium to seat 150 people, lots of room backstage and a handy yard round the back to pre-dip the fire toys.

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The shows were incredibly fun! It was AWESOME to see how the national guys come alive the minute they hit that stage. A lot of lessons were taught in that matinee performancethem to us about style, performance and how it should be done and us to them about backstage etiquette, not just randomly walking through the back curtain and never spraying aerosol next to the lit fire toys! A real treat was when all 8 of us performed a jazz routine Emma had choreographed. Now I’m no stranger to jazz but this was not an easy routine. Very fast and a million miles away in style from African dance, everyone trained and trained and trained until it was perfect and boy was it worth it on the night!

I am in awe of the National’s energy, style, commitment and passion; at one point I was sat backstage and couldn’t help smiling to myself about the absurdity of the situationAfrica, cultural dance and costumes, very loud drumming, big cabaret show, MASSIVE fire finale, all in 31°C heat. Yeah no problem!!

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After a hearty supper of rice and beans the evening performance went like a dream. We had lots of positive feedback and even big guys like the head of UNICEF were watching! In total we raised over £1000 but it sounds much more impressive to say 6,000,000 leones J We are now in a great financial position to head out on our tour, but more than that we have bonded as a team and feel ready to get out there and spread some PeWiBo PWB African Circus loving to the children of Sierra Leone!

Much red wine, flapjacks and chocolate muffins later (thanks Clare!) we went to bed exhausted but very very happy 🙂

Written by Kay-T


Sierra Leone Team Blog 1!

January 27, 2014

So, The Performers Without Borders (PeWiBo) team arrived at Heathrow on a cold, rainy and grey January morning- half asleep and probably a little apprehensive about our tour to a country none of us had ever travelled to- labelled  by the media as having a colourful and complicated recent past. I, Livi (or Grandma), provide the team with the basic essentials of a PWB tour- Drumstick lollies and squeakers.  We then met Uncle Harold the pilot- Emma’s magical uncle who wiggled us 3 free air tickets to and from Sierra Leone-  Thank you BA. Not only did that help us keep our volunteer contributions low, but we also got upgraded to world traveller plus- allowing us to squeak our way in excitement and comfort to Africa. I’m sure we were very popular with the other passengers on the flight! We even got to preach our message to the co-pilot who came for a little chat about the wonderful work that PWB do.

Our arrival in Africa soon brought us back down to earth, when only half of our bags made it with us to Sierra Leone! Luckily all the hoops arrived, and all my bags. So for our first day everyone dressed as Livi, except for Tim…I think the girls were happy my bags arrived and not his.  After waiting for 1.5 hours at the airport in a ‘queue’ of angry Africans, we were introduced to the concept of ‘Africa Time’ very abruptly and realised that our punctuality had to be replaced by smiles and patience- and of course, we were the last to leave the airport. Once the bags were sorted by the friendly airport staff Baibai, our Save the Children representative, helped us find our way out of Lungi International Airport to a small coach and made our way to the river estury to get to Freetown. It was such a relief to have my toes in the sand once again, and being surrounded by palm trees made me feel surprisingly like I was at home! We were stuffed onto a small boat, tied to a small jetty in very choppy waters- two of our team felt extremely sea sick and were glad to be on the move. Once at the other end we were met by a smiling Peachy and car  to drive the bumpy road up to our home from home the save the children compound. We were welcomed by Clare and the three puppies living here.  After some rare and amazing veggie chili-  Veggie dishes being usually out of the African cuisine- and acclimatising to the heat (great after leaving England  mid-winter) we settled down for our first African sleep.

Our first day involved a preliminary meeting discussing the details of the tour and what acts we would contribute to our fundraiser on the 25th January. For the first time in PWB history, we also had to take into account our local PeWiBo performers, who would be joining us on tour and  we were all very excited to meet them! We the other half of the team at Cue bar, a bar/gym combo on the beach where the touch rugby team meets every week. After an awkward minute or two we were comparing both the differences and similarities in performing lifestyles from either country- Can be amazing what a passion for performance gives you in common!Image

Our first weekend before Bootcamp  involved a welcome party at Cockle Point- a beautiful, secluded beach with a fantastic view, quite different from the hustle and bustle in the city of Freetown. We enjoyed a day of swimming in the sea before settling down to a group meal with a selection of local friends, other ex-pats working for charity, travellers and locals. Peachy set up a DJ booth with fairy lights and his new speakers (RA-style) and we performed our first show together as a team- some enjoyed their first fire performance on a beach in Sierra Leone- something to remember! It was great to show everyone and each other our skills and the team bonded with sharing dance styles and the Sierra leone dance anthems like ‘chop my money’. Everyone slowly crept to bed, leaving  the last few to enjoy some late night reggae under the full moon-yes mate- thank god for the mini-rigs J. The morning was met with a welcomed cool swim to sooth the inevitable doxycycline burn from the day before followed by a lazy day of amusing card games and relaxing by the sea. By the time we arrived home we were all relaxed and acclimatised to the heat and ready for a 8.30 start for Bootcamp the next day.

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Written by Livi Little