If you would like to view just the workshop report, click here.
I think I can honestly say that today was an unmitigated failure. BUT I also think this has been the only unmitigated failure out of all the workshops I’ve had so far, and failures can be both entertaining and enlightening…which makes for good blog material, I guess!
Usually, I am quick to respond to nagging doubts as an excuse not to do something, but with my self-imposed November deadline looming ever-nearer, I decided to squash those nagging doubts, nip them in the bud, move forward courageously, etc etc. It didn’t help that last night it poured cats and dogs, I had a rare bout of insomnia, and I woke up in the morning unwell. It also didn’t help that my taxi arrived late and I got to the station with minutes to spare. Usually I would take these all as Signs That I Should Stay At Home (it explains why most of my successes are fortuitous, and why I expect things to always go right for me) but today I thought I would prevail. I suppose, though, in a funny way I did.
I got one of those seats with tables, also facing forward (albeit on the eastern side of the train) and I thought, well, that’s got to be a good sign considering that in the taxi I amused myself by figuring out what my chances were of getting particular seats. I didn’t get the window seat, but funnily enough no one else claimed it, so I had two seats to myself. Odds of that happening? Quite small. Okay, I thought, this is looking up, especially when you factor in the fact that someone helped me hoist my luggage up to the rack, and he and his wife gave me two clementines or tangerines or mandarins or whatever-you-call-them-in-your-part-of-the-world to eat. I slept most of the journey, though, which is why I prefer to travel in the evening; I’ve become such a night owl that I can’t really get anything done in the train anymore.
The train was late, and I descended a little blearily in Vavuniya at noon. Mr Premadasa was there to meet me, as usual, and I discovered that there is quite a big HNB (apart from the little ATM near the General Hospital) on the way to Cargills. Cargills, my favourite haunt (my only haunt?) was closed, and I decided I would just see what I could get from Thai Hotel itself. When I got to Thai I felt exhausted, but I was late so a nap was out of the question. I hurried through lunch, picking at it and disappointedly discovering that the bits of chicken in my fried rice were incredibly bony, before giving up and packing my things into the van, which arrived earlier than usual. I was lucky in that Thai had all the things I needed, and I decided that today I wasn’t going to worry too much.
The driver (fluent in Sinhala, yay!) turned out to be driver-Kamal’s older brother, Gajan. I will really never stop marvelling at what a small world it is (when he mentioned Kamal, I was all like, “Ah you know him? Is he your friend?”).
It was overcast as we left, and before long it began to pour. Torrential rain, sheets of it slicing across the windscreen. I looked at it and thought, ah, well this is my moment to tell him to turn the van around and go back to the hotel, and I have a nice hot cup of tea and a nap. But I didn’t, and the rain really was lovely. The clay soil made all the puddles turn a brick orange, and it felt vaguely as though I were trekking through a wildlife reserve.
It was only drizzling when we got to Kakkaiyankulam, and it was heartening to see all of them ready and waiting for me. In retrospect, I think I need to remember these moments when I have rather serious doubts that what I am doing makes any sense and all I am doing is wasting ReachOut’s money. I mean, I won’t pretend I’m doing anything theatrically marvellous in these children’s lives, but I like to think I’m giving them a good (if unusual) time? There were 22 of them today, and they all immediately clamoured to have the tiny TV in the van turned on (I hadn’t even noticed it was there until they did). They watched a strange film all the way to Nattankandal in relative quietness, and I was only stopped once by an army dude who, learning that I was from Moratuwa, immediately asked me about some famous TV actress and immediately doubted that I actually lived in Moratuwa when I told him I hadn’t a clue. Dude, I don’t know the names of any Sinhalese actresses, and I certainly don’t know where they’re from, so if you can’t remember her name then it’s fearfully unlikely that I will. And no, I’m not giving you some of the children’s sandwiches. (I am a cranky, crabby lady).
When we got to Nattankandal I realised a little uncomfortably that we weren’t the only ones at the school (in fact, one teacher came up to me and asked me, in not-terrible English, what programme I was doing and I died a bit at the way I just barge in each week and then say, oh yes the army is letting me use this place, as though the school belongs to the army). I talked to a few girls who happened to be from Chiraddikulam, and who told me to my dismay that Gowry (my young friend who calls me all the time) had recently been hospitalised after having fever, but was now back at home.
I played a new kind of relay race with the Kakkaiyankulam kids, and gave them their sandwiches to eat, before discovering that 45 minutes had passed, and that the Chiraddikulam children should have been at the school twenty minutes ago. While trying to get through to Gajan, Major Lalith arrived on a motorbike to tell me the children had gone home from school (I bet he hadn’t passed on the message) and had to be rounded up from their homes. Wonderful. I started playing walk-stop-group with the Kakkaiyankulam kids, and the Chiraddikulam children arrived ten minutes later with a lady who I believe was Mayuran’s mother, and I’m only sorry that she had to see this sorry shambles of a workshop instead of my marvellously successful one of the week before.
To be fair, I think I tried to make too much of a leap this week (possibly in response to the looming-deadline-pressure) and tried to get them to make emotion pictures in which one kid makes a shape, another tries to join in, etc. I thought they’d had such fun with sculptor-clay the week before that this wouldn’t be that much of a stretch, but it was. I need to just give up on the emotions front and accept that these children have incredible difficulty verbalising and physicalizing emotion, and I should probably just leave it at that. But what was funny was that I just became more and more desperate, trying all kinds of ways to explain what I wanted to Gajan, who also just became more and more mystified at my explanations that I wanted sad shapes, not sad children, high shapes and low shapes, manifestations of emotion, not emotional people – yes, when I am desperate and trying to explain things, I become more jargon-y than ever, and jargon translates really badly into Sinhala. I do believe that for a good ten minutes he was convinced that I was crackers – well, more crackers than you need to be to think that it’s a good idea to take a train from Colombo every week to do theatre in the jungles with a bunch of wild children (who are definitely a lot wilder after school).
I ended the workshop on a rather unsatisfactory note, only because it was getting late, distributed sandwiches and Milo, and got the Kakkakiyankulam children to play the walk-stop game in an effort to prevent them from destroying themselves and the school while we waited for the van to return. I briefly wondered how they learn anything in school, but decided that this is probably their way of working off their pent-up energies after school. I had two bouts of tears today: Rifasa (who returned after a long break) and Farvin, later, in the van.
The children howled like caged hyenas all the way home (no exaggeration), more so when it got dark and they took it in turns to turn on and off the light in the middle of the van and make ghostly noises. They also sang, some of them (Fausan, I suspect) shrieking the words instead of singing them. They also adjusted the seats so that they were all lying down instead of sitting. I felt like I was transporting a menagerie.
It was dark and rainy when we got to the village, and I resolved I would never do another weekday workshop like this again – it’s also not fair on the children’s parents! I am definitely cancelling next Monday’s workshop; it’s not worth the time and effort. I got a lot more done in our short Sunday workshop than I did today, and I’m hoping that somehow things will sort themselves out and I will have something to show in November. And if I don’t, well, I suppose that is life.
I got back to Thai and really only wanted to watch TV, but my internet connection (or lack thereof) made that an impossibility. I did discover that there is one episode of Psych I haven’t watched yet, and I will watch it when I get home. Meanwhile, I had a bout of insomnia again, and woke up at 2am unable to sleep (there are also mosquitos in this room). So today’s blog post is written insomniacally at 3am in Thai Hotel. Woo! I sincerely hope I have as few episodes like this as possible in the coming weeks.
Naturally, in the spirit of failure, I have no videos this week and fewer photos than usual.