If you would like to view just the workshop report, click here.
It’s funny how this week, when I happened to arrive 20 minutes early to the station, the train happened to be 20 minutes late. But these things happen. I usually like to arrive for things just in the nick of time, but that strategy proves to be much too stressful for dealing with trains – conversely, on the days I happen to be a few minutes late, the train appears to depart a few minutes early. What was nice, though, was that I met Dilsiri and her mother at the station! She finished med school a year or so back, and her placement is at the Vavuniya General Hospital. She said the place is quite nice, but the lack of interns means work is incredibly busy. She comes back once a month for two days! Her years is about two-thirds done though – she’s been in Vavuniya all this time and I had no clue. How bizarre…and how very small this island is! Also, no one seems to have heard of little Thai Hotel (the more famous ones are the Nelly Star Hotel – another multi-coloured marvel, and Thampa Hotel – they sponsor the upkeep of the V-town railway station and have also apparently degenerated into a seedy beer-garden).
I notice that I’m always really productive when ensconced in the ExpoRail carriage. Despite the odd inconveniences – bouncing up and down, plugging out the sounds of the tv, trying my best to get two seats to myself so my elbows don’t bang against other people – I can generally concentrate for much longer than I can at home. I have yet to figure out why, because many of the distractions that exist at home also exist in the ExpoRail carriage…although I do suppose Dusty, paperback novels, my mother, and my bed are significant distractions that do not exist on that bumpy ride.
We pulled in to V-town at about 10.30pm, and I putt-putted home (yes, Thai Hotel is now home) with Premadasa. I was given my very first room again, 118, and I felt vaguely nostalgic. After some project-related emailing, I fell asleep.
I’m not sure whether it’s because it was an unusually nice morning, or because I was really raring to get to the villages, but I made the rather unwise decision to go along with a driver (Dharme) who barely spoke any Sinhala as my translator, in the hopes that things would sort themselves out. I must have been feeling really optimistic! As your journey progressed and I conversed with Dharme, I realised that his understanding of Sinhala really was quite limited, so I looked for as many words as possible in the dictionary, and hoped for the best. I thought it was probably best that today we were scheduled for both essay-writing and drawing – but those posed their own problems!
Gowry was at the community centre again, and I hoped that she might be able to assist me during the workshop. However, after a game of Dog and the Bone, when we were settling down to write essays, I discovered we had a problem. She didn’t quite understand my request – write your favourite story. I said it could be from anywhere; your parents, a story from school, from religious textbooks, anything. Just whatever captured their imagination. Turns out I’m not sure if their parents tell them any stories, and Gowry looked really blank when I asked her about stories from their Tamil textbooks. So I’m not sure whether these children are really growing up story-less, or whether it just got lost in translation. We’ll see what turns up in the translations, but I’m actually wondering whether to phase out the writing. The children find it really difficult, and none of the translators truly understand my assignments. I’m learning that translating requires not only the ability to speak two languages – it also requires being generally on the same wavelength as the other person!
We then played Colombian Hypnosis and the Mirror Game, and while the kids are better at going slow than the kids at K’kulam, and have definitely improved in terms of exploring the use of their bodies since the first day, they have still a long way to go before they will be as spontaneous as the K’kulam kids. However, I think the best thing for them is just repeated exposure to the other children – I think kids learn best from watching other kids, not from my instruction. I must say, while I was really impressed with the K’kulam kids the week we made group shapes, I found the Chiraddikulam kids to be unequal to the task. Apart from the fact that my translator couldn’t understand what it was that I wanted the children to do (one frustrating habit that people from this region have, is to nod one’s head enthusiastically even though they have no clue what’s being said to them. Either no one has ever told them it’s okay to say, “No, hang on, backtrack a bit, I don’t understand,” or it’s just considered rude. I’m not sure which) the children seemed unenthusiastic about engaging in an activity that challenged their imaginations. They like being told exactly what to do, and were deeply uncomfortable with the thought of self-organising. I must say, though, the Kakkaiyankulam children were tons better at self-organising and using their imagination to create the shapes than many adults are – so now I just have huge expectations of the children at Chiraddikulam! The exercise was therefore not as riotous and hilariously successful as in Kakkaiyankulam – I rather miss them, and I’m looking forward to working with them again when we start the bridging workshops!
After Milo and buns, I gave the children a new activity – draw your favourite festival. I’m not saying this to be mean, but as a means to try to understand these children: they really are very “lazy”. They wanted to draw fruits and flowers, but I think it’s because they’ve already mastered the technique of drawing nice-looking flowers and don’t want to expand to draw other things that require thinking back, sifting through memories, re-creating mental images – basically thinking hard, and thinking for themselves. I got the feeling that this workshop was not as fun for them as the drama games workshops had been for the K’kulam kids, and while I want to just “give them a good time” – I also want them to start thinking critically. Although, really, how much of an impact can I have on them in just a few workshops? If I acknowledge that I can’t make much of a difference to how they think, then maybe I should just let them do what they want. But I don’t really work like that – I want every experience to be Deeply Educational and Inspiring – although obviously that’s not actually what happens in each workshop! These are my problems from this week. Now comes the fun part – how do I solve them? We’ll see.
I promised Gowry the week before that I would visit her family, so I made sure I had a chunk of time to do that. Gowry has been calling and texting all week, which really concerns me given that they are clearly very poor – I’m not sure how good the family is at managing their money. We stopped at a temple on the way, and Gowry put the customary powder (which I believe is actually dried and powdered cow dung?) on my forehead. We then went to her house, made of woven coconut leaves and partitioned with mats. I was given the only chair, and offered varaka (ripe jak fruit); I gave them my gift of biscuits.We chatted briefly – I don’t know enough Tamil and they don’t know enough Sinhala – and I learned there is a sister in Saudi, and that Gowry’s older sister (who is 32!) is married to a Sinhalese man who is now in Puttalam. I didn’t want to overstay my welcome, so I didn’t impose on them too long – but getting back into the van I realied just how cool it was under the jak tree shading their house, despite the intense heat.
Dharme drove much faster on the way back to Vavuniya. I stopped at Cargills for iced tea and cookies (incidentally, I saw the restaurant White Stone that Dilsiri told me about the day before!) before returning to “Sai Hotel” as Dharme called it. I took a shower (while wondering whether people in V-town shower several times a day because it’s so hot, or whether they shower only once or less because water is scarce), and ate chicken fried rice while watching a really confusing Tamil film.
Despite asking for a window seat, when Premadasa dropped me to the station (after giving me his number, too!) I discovered I had an aisle seat. I really loathe aisle seats, and I’m not sure why. I think window seat give you marginally more privacy, and I am the biggest fan of Lots Of Privacy.
Also to entertain me on the way back was a series of emails from the friends, discussing Muslim weddings and how the bride doesn’t need to be there, the role of the “imam man” in the ceremony, a riddle in which Obama, Beyonce, Bill Gates, and the Pope are in a plane with only three parachutes (who relinquishes the parachute?!) and Fab pastries. Fun times.