If you would like to view just the workshop report, click here.
The Sunday before I left for V-town, I decided I would complete the task of adding finishing touches to the kids’ files (completed in session four). This consisted of adding facial features, hair, hands, and feet, as well as inserting all written and drawn work completed by the children during the previous workshops. It took a while, but I was really pleased with my stack when I was done. I’ve added the pictures below.
I went to sleep really late as a result (even after enlisting help from my brother!) and I dozed fitfully all the way to Vavuniya. And the usually efficient express train was half an hour late. Because I just wanted to get to the hotel and unwind a bit, I told Premadasa (Known Tuk Tuk Man) that I’d go to Cargills on the way to the village, and to go straight to Thai Hotel. I really need to learn to stop procrastinating.
This week, Thai Hotel is operating much as it would if Mr Kanapathy were there, although unfortunately he will be unavailable for a while. After cooling off in this week’s pre-airconditioned room, I ate lunch (which was ready at the time I asked!) and this week’s lunch was quite a treat: yay biriyani! They also gave me homemade wattalappan for dessert, and it was quite good, albeit incredibly sweet.
While waiting for Nanthar to finish lunch, I talked to Mr Kamal, who started teaching me Tamil words. I don’t think I mentioned this last time, but turns out he was educated in Colombo – at Wesley College! At first I thought it might be because he was a Christian, but then I realised it’s because Wesley is in Colombo 10. Demography is a fascinating thing, it really is.
Having to stop at Cargills before going to Kakkaiyankulam made me really late: Nanthar got a bit late, and he had to pump petrol, the Cargills people never seem to take notice of my Sunday evening get-juice-ready call, and I couldn’t find anything the children would like besides chocolate for their last-session-before fasting present. I got fruit, chocolate and dates – in lieu of Ramazan – for Mr Farhan, though (I feel like it’s only right – I never pay him for hanging around my workshops each week and translating!). I’m always rather grateful for that hour of travel, though – it helps me get my thoughts in order. Somehow games I prepare in Colombo with the thought that they will be fun, seem silly in Vavuniya, and then I need to some frantic thinking about what will work instead.
I got there about twenty minutes late (oops), but it’s always such a joy to see the children notice that I’m coming, and then tear down to the school to be ready to greet me. Today’s workshop began with the collection of “diaries” (note to self – these kids are not so good with doing homework, but I do want them to continue writing a diary…perhaps we’ll resume once they get back from Ramazan!). We started our games session with a ball-passing relay race – the children got terribly confused at first about passing a ball either clockwise or anti-clockwise. We’ll keep playing Organised Sports, though, partly because it’s good for the kids to siphon out some of their boundless and unlimited energy, and partly because it’s also good for them to channel their energies into an activity that requires not only teamwork, but coordination and a little discipline. Although I admit, I do like their natural and unruly energy!
We then played the walk-stop game, and we shook things up a bit by asking them to walk with different emotions. Fausan likes to pretend he’s a car while walking, and it is with great regret that I always tell him he needs to be silent (along with car noises comes car crashes, you see, and then the walk stop game turns into a physical fist-fight). All of this was done while Mr F had lunch, though, so I had to keep things simple. The kids understand a smattering of Sinhala, though, and we managed for a bit – and funnily enough I feel as though I’m beginning to understand them better! I can’t say my spoken Tamil has noticeably improved (except in terms of rudimentary words like Stand! Sit! Wait a bit! Stop!), but I think I’m getting better at picking up meaning. Either way, today’s workshop was jolly, despite having about 6 kids missing – I think it’s because school ended today. I’m fairly sure they’ll be back from the next session, though.
After a two-minute water break (yes, I managed to understand when they asked, and also told them, “Ah, thanni kudeenga…rendu nimidam ah!” – Two minutes only!) Mr Farhan returned, as well as the children who triumphantly told me how they’d only taken two minutes. We then played Colombian Hypnosis. The children get the idea, as always – they’re quick and intelligent – but their general high spirits and cheerful indiscipline mean they won’t attempt to do anything with Meticulous Accuracy. Yes, I know this is OCD-Nushelle talking, and that I can’t really expect technical perfection, but I unconsciously do. Colombian Hypnosis was a success – they completely understood what was required and had no problem with moving around the space in different ways when asked. They’re also getting better at not copying other people’s actions or doing the exact action I tell them. The only flaws would be that their actions aren’t always well-coordinated – something that I should probably expect from an older age-group, though.
Then we played a charades game – the kids had to “create” a shape with their bodies. I divided the children into three groups, and each group was given Bicycle, Tree, and House, respectively. I was almost afraid it wouldn’t work, but they were incredibly quick. It was fascinating to watch. House and Tree were relatively easy; bicycle should have been easy, but they created a ridiculous snake-like entity. They giggled so much though that I made a mental note to give them activities like this way more often – it was so much fun to watch them. Another lady teacher appeared while I was carrying out the exercise, and both she and Mr Farhan couldn’t help but grin at the children either.
After these high jinks, it was only appropriate that we should break for tea. I’m officially turning a blind eye to all children taking juice or milk home to their amma/appa/thambi/thangei, and yes, I will continue to bring tetra-paks that enable them to do so. These kids are also way better about dividing fairly than the kisd at Chiraddikulam,, but perhaps I’m being unfair. Let’s see what happens after I distribute biscuits a few times at Chiraddikulam and then start implementing the take-one-and-pass rule.
After that it was drawing time – the children noticed the pastels and said excitedly, “Siththiram?” which I took a little while to get. We spent the next half hour drawing, and I only wish the kids would apply their exuberance in theatre to drawing. It’s as though they’re afraid to use the chalk – and perhaps they are. Using chalk lightly will make it last longer, but it makes for really washed-out-looking pictures. In despair, I started my own drawing towards the end – a highly lurid drawing of a Muslim lady and a stunted-looking little girl, attired in a rainbow of colours. I’m a fan of No White Space, and kept telling the children to Use All The Colours, which strangely reminds me of Clean ALL The Things. I also discovered that Nusair (unfortunately absent today) is Nusra’s older brother! I now have two sets of siblings in this workshop (that I know of).
We ended with my distributing files and chocolate to the kids, and it ended up feeling like a prize-giving – they clapped politely after each name was called. It really did feel like the end of term, and I feel like Kakkaiyankulam and I have both come a long way since our first workshop. I really do like these kids, and I have a feeling they’re going to keep surprising me as our workshops continue. I’m just going to have to be super good at learning Tamil! I then spent a few minutes talking to Mr Farhan about them, and gave him the bag of fruit-stuffs. Then it was time to leave.
Getting home took longer than usual, but I think it’s mostly due to the fact that Nanthar and I had an animated conversation in Tamil/Sinhala/English, of which I understood perhaps half of; I’m writing down the little of it I still remember. Still, it was an incredible conversation, and I wish I could have recorded it. I suppose I didn’t really expect him to start talking so much after having met me only once (I guess I thought that the people of Vavuniya would be more reserved than my loquacious neighbours in Moratuwa – but then again I learned about Mr Kanapathy’s son and daughter on my second visit, and Maheshwari’s life story on our first meeting!)
We talked about a wide range of topics – we talked about my workshops and he attempted to understand just what I do and why I come all the way from Colombo to do it. Then we talked about work – I explained that I used to work, and stopped to work on this project, whereupon I will start again. I don’t know the Tamil word for freelancer yet, clearly. We talked about marriage: no I wasn’t married, no my family hadn’t found me a proposal yet, yes I planned to Finish My Studies first (really the only excuse that might meet with approval), yes some of my friends were married but not all, yes some of them had proposals but they were Muslims, and yes two of my friends would be getting married within the next couple of months.
We talked about Vavuniya and Jaffna – yes, I’d visited once, in 2004. Chundikulli Girls School was our sister-school, you see. He’d been educated at St. Johns, right next door! (St. Johns is actually one of the best schools in Jaffna, and it’s quite a nice-looking school.) His sister had been educated at Chundikulli, and now she was living in England. She was going to visit SL the following week. Turned out that his brother wasn’t Kamal-Owner, and that Mr Kamal wasn’t the owner. Nanthar’s brother was the owner, but lived in India. He’d moved to Vavuniya in 1996, when the war in Jaffna got really bad. Vavuniya was generally safe, until 2009 when the war was at its end.
Nanthar is a tour driver – he’s toured all over the place. Here my understanding got a little fuzzy, but I think he told me it got really difficult during the war, being a Tamil. He also said that if ever my family needed a tour of Jaffna, V-town, or Kilinochchi, he would be happy to act as guide/van driver. Yay contacts! (Also, someone please tell me what he would have meant by “All Ceylon” – All Ceylon Tours? Is that a real thing?)
We talked about the war. He was glad the war was over, and glad there was no more LTTE. For that, he was grateful to MR. He also spoke of RW, and the ceasefire. That had been nice too, peace without the cost of bloodshed, but during that time he had to pay TWO taxes – one to the government, and one to the LTTE. Ouch. Post-war peace, while acquired at a high price, was nice – no checkpoints, no bomber jets, no shells. He didn’t offer me any surprising opinions (not that I would expect him to!) but it was still really nice that he chattily volunteered all of it without my asking.
His wife can speak Sinhala, and runs a beauty shop next to Thai Hotel. Nanthar is related to both Mr Kanapathy and little-Kamal by marriage (Can you believe it, I already have enough for a book on Family Ties in V-Town). Turns out little-Kamal is married too?!?! But he’s two years younger than I am! The people in V-town are going to think there is either something radically wrong with me (is she unfit for marriage?) or my family (why don’t they find her a nice proposal?). Nanthar has a three-year-old daughter. One of his family (I forget who) works for the ICRC, and during the war it was “hamadhama death”. He talked about death a lot, and I thought uncomfortably about the fact that all my research, my ideas, my hopes and dreams, are the result of unmitigated luxury. I haven’t had to deal with death, so I can theorise about Rehabiliatation, Reconciliation, Reconstruction, and the like, without knowing what it’s really like to live in a time of war and how much I might be willing to give to not hear the sound of a supersonic jet squealing across the sky. I can say now, “No, we mustn’t let ourselves get comfortable or complacent about this!” – because throughout the war, I’m not the one who’s experienced the most discomfort. Or any discomfort, for that matter. I’m putting it really badly, but I’m guessing I am going to grow a lot in the next twelve months. And then I will be able to articulate it better.
We talked about Thai Hotel – yes, I liked it, and yes, I was most comfortable. It’s very clean, I said, and he told me they get a company to do the cleaning. Ooh, fancy. We talked about films (no, I hadn’t watched Tamil films, but could he recommend one?) and music, and I was really glad that Chammak Challo and Kolaveri were just as popular in Colombo. We ended our conversation with a discussion about Facebook (typical?) – he gets on FB late at night and then can’t get to sleep on time. So he takes an afternoon nap. Except on Mondays and Thursdays. Mondays because of me (oops) and Thursdays because he has to do Sales, I think.
I should have written all this last night – I feel like I can’t remember half of it now. There were of course a few things that went completely over my head, including the phrase “business birds”. I have no idea what he was trying to say there.
Upon my return to the Marshmallow Pudding, I showered, had chapathi as usual while watching a snippet of this crazy Tamil film – three men hit someone with a stick before running into a restaurant with a name that sounds like a stripper club (argh can’t remember the name, except that it was something like Distill My Passion) and to evade the police they dress up for a fashion show. Despite one man’s moustache, he still manages to pass as a lady (what?) and some girls pour nail polish (WHAT?) into a coke for him to drink. He drinks it and then really needs to use the bathroom. Meanwhile some other men spike another girl’s coke, and are about to overtake her when some other dude dressed up like Zorro appears and beats them all up and saves her. I’ve missed watching this ridiculous stuff! I would have watched the whole thing, but I was terribly sleepy. So I called it a night (after being instructed by Mr Kamal how to ask for my breakfast in Tamil) and slept for eleven hours, while dreaming of a vast collection of things, including but not limited to Guy’s upcoming hen party, Ayn’s arrival in SL, and a visit to a museum.