If you would like to view just the workshop report, click here.
After a hiatus that included Reunions and CDP, I am again running back and forth from V-town. Most projects start with rainbows and sparkly stars; it’s only once you really get your teeth into it that tiny hiccups look much more like significant challenges – but that is what a project of this kind is all about! This week was that kind of week – I often stopped to wonder if I was a bit mad to do theatre workshops in villages in the jungle, when they don’t even have proper houses. Should I be working on something else instead? Something more concrete? Am I trying to make philosophers out of them before they have enough to eat? I really don’t know. But at least they’ll have fun. Only time will tell, I guess?
It started out much like any other trip, but after Premadasa picked me up, helped me collect milk (and an iced tea for me!) from Cargills, and dropped me at Thai Hotel, I knew it wouldn’t be quite the same. There was no Mr Kanapathy with his Jeeves-like efficiency and instinctive knowledge of what makes guests comfortable. I was greeted instead by the owner, but he didn’t have that quiet efficiency and warmth that Mr K has! This trip made me realise all the things Mr K makes possible, and that I had to do without. This is not a complaint, even though it reads like one. It is really a moment of awe and wonder at the Marvellous Manager that is Mr K. I am going to momentarily digress to sing his praise in prose: He makes my room ready, with the A/C on, before I get there, so that I can be greeted by cooling breezes despite the sweltering Vauniya heat. He makes sure my lunch is served five minutes before the time I ask, and that it is delicious but not too spicy for my sudda/Sinhalese tastes. He arranges my transport hours in advance, ensuring it gets there at least a quarter of an hour before I wish to leave. Most of all, he instinctively knows how to make me feel at home, which is a wonderful gift in a hotel manager. Vavuniya is still a town of NGO’s and army trucks, and Thai Hotel is in itself an average place. But Mr Kanapathy makes it entirely worth the trip. Without him, Thai Hotel loses much of its glamour.
With Mr K’s absence, Vavuniya felt very far away from home, suddenly. I felt strangely listless before lunch, and worked on an application until I realised I should check up on lunch (usually I get a knock at the door to tell me it’s ready). The power failed during lunch, so there I was, perspiring profusely in the heat, trying to eat too-spicy food and feeling hotter than ever. I missed Mr K. Then, I learned I wouldn’t be going in the air-conditioned van to Kakkaiyankulam, and I realised I’d really been pampered before. I also travelled with a new driver – instead of Mr K’s nephew Kamal, it was the owner’s (also named Kamal) brother Nanthar? Do you see a pattern here?
When we got to Kakkaiyankulam, we had to use a different classroom that had no tables and chairs, and again, I’m grateful that my first workshop went off sans hiccups (although I admit it’s much easier to be grateful in retrospect than it is when you are in a pickle!). Mr Farhan also seemed a bit occupied today, and I felt bad at taking his time – I really need to get a Tamil tutor, and figure out translator stuff while I do. I can’t keep imposing on people like this! This week consisted almost entirely of games – the name game, the keep-the-ball-in-the-air game (the children are still failing at it), the walk-stop game (I replaced shouting one’s name with a single clap) and some new ones – the what’s-in-my-pocket game and the mirror game, both incredibly fun and successful. The children generally didn’t have to think, they just said whatever came into their heads. And check out the short, badly-shot video from the mirror game! It’s literally the only footage I have from today’s workshop, though. Oops!
The kids were jumpy during the writing exercise, which I had thought would be a fun and easy one – to write out their favourite story. Maybe I need to shake things up a bit – perhaps next time I’ll let them draw instead. A few children, like Nakiba, and Aska (littlest girl in the group!) wrote a lot, but many found it really really hard. I ended the workshop by giving them each another milk to take home. (Today it was three boys who told me, cheerfully, that they were taking their milk home to Amma – I counted the leftover milk and found that if I gave them the milk I was going to distribute at Chiraddikulam the next day, there was enough to give them the second round. So I thought, well, what does it matter…I can always buy more milk!)
Here’s this week’s challenge – I had a bunch of spectators this week too, mostly older girls who seemed to be Tamil, not Muslim. After the workshop was over, some of the older children called out, a little mockingly, to me, imitating some of the things I do in the workshops. I could see my little ones getting annoyed with them (which means they like me, yay!) but that’s not the point. I’m not sure how to deal with these older kids, especially as I’d like to do a theatre workshop with them, too, in 2013. I’m trying to put myself in their shoes, and think I can understand where they are coming from. I’m from Colombo, I’m Sinhalese, I don’t speak the language, I’m doing exotic workshops for the younger children that they can’t be a part of, I’m a sort-of threat. Maybe I should ask them if they’d like to do the next lot of theatre workshops with me? I don’t think ignoring them is a good option. I’m troubled at the way they seem to dislike me, but I think I just need to figure out why, since it’s clearly a dislike based on something preconceived. Anyway, pinning that thought on this blog for now. I didn’t fare too well on the first attempt, though – I answered their questions – they spoke a smattering of English, but maybe I spoke too fast. It didn’t work, and neither did my halting Tamil. I could still feel that funny mixture of perplexity and animosity. Oh well, this little incident is this week’s fail (since I’m so good at making faux pas/acting llike a foreigner in one way or another each week!) but I’ll try to figure out how to approach them better if I bump into them again soon. I must say, they impressed me though – before we started conversing I saw them carrying heavy logs towards the well – perhaps the village was building something (which would explain Mr Farhan’s pre-occupation). They do a lot of heavy lifting for young girls – I keep forgetting that at fifteen, they’re adults, and by the time they’re my age, they’re way past being footloose and fancy-free.
We took the bumpy road home, but the view was lovely – I have some blurry pictures (all the photos I have today, unfortunately!) I also saw along the way a random flagpole with a Sri Lankan flog, but it was ripped so that all that was left of it was the orange and green bars for Tamils and Muslims. A little piece of fluttering irony.
I got back, had a shower, and decided I liked life better after showers. I had chapathi and potatoes for dinner, then worked on sorting out some admin stuff for CI before realising that a power surge in the afternoon had completely ruined my computer charger. Somehow, it seemed much worse a tragedy than it really was, and I went to bed considerably grumpy.
And below, for your viewing pleasure, some snapshots of the drive back from Kakkaiyankulam.