Friday, March 27, 2009

Drum lesson

Friday afternoons are my favourite time of the week.

After coming home, unloading the kids, I head out in the car again, drum on the back seat. Just this one time, I don't turn right at the compound gates. Towards the right are town, traffic, noise, and work. This time, I turn left, and drive up what's known as Mamba Point Road.

The road winds past hotels and mansions; half built houses and squatter camps; fancy and formerly fancy blocks of flats; offices of UN agencies. Then there's a boom gate and the obstacle course of barriers that ensures no-one will drive past the gargantuan US Embassy property at more than 20km/h. Just out the last boom, I turn off the main road, and into a small, separate world.

This is the US Embassy Art Market. Along a little side street that sees hardly any motor traffic, the porches and front rooms of ramshackle cottages form the display areas and sales rooms maybe 25 or so craft dealers. By this time of the evening, the day's trade is done, and no-one is seriously looking for customers anymore. The traders sit on each others porches, taking the evening together. The market has a special atmosphere, even earlier in the day. Yes, then there is more aggressive selling going on. But still it is a place apart from the traffic, the taxis; there is no-one selling slippers, or batteries, or for that matter anything from a wheelbarrow. Big trees give shade on the road. There are women and children around from the small squatter camp at the back of the market.

Just past the market, there is a dip, the terrain by the side of the road becomes rocky. On the left is tiny informal settlement the spitting image of how Alexandra used to be, in Joburg: a few old houses, mostly shacks, rubbish heaps, chickens. At the end of the road, one can park. There is a small bridge made of some kind of wooden structure laid flat, and on the other end of the bridge is the room of Mr Steven Samukai. The room, the world, the family, the teachings of Mr Samukai, this is where I've been heading.

From inside the room, in the basement of a ruined house, comes the sound of a keledoun (like marimba, wooden xylophone), a drum, and kende (metal percussion instrument). As I walk in, Mr Samukai smiles: "We are playing you a welcome song."

His fiance is there, and one or maybe both of his grown sons. The room is his self-created cultural museum; it is filled with masks, musical instruments, puppets, and special clothing.

A lesson follows in drumming, culture, and kindness.

(Mr Samukai is the president of the Unotoma Arts Society, and can be reached at 05694783.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Story of a story

When you're trying to get the bread out the bread-pan without breaking it, you may clean forget about strawberry jam. It's the best way I can explain why a storyteller, or at least someone who makes storytelling happen, not telling, sharing or eliciting a single story in the first few months of her stay in a new country.

But I'm very grateful to say the stories eventually came along anyway, in several wonderful ways.

The very first story that was told to me, as a proper story, came out of the blue. K, the boy in my class who has cerebral palsy, was coming up for his turn to do a book report. I asked whether he'd like me to read him a book, which he could then do an oral report on. No, said K, I want to tell a story.

So, we got his wheelchair to the front of the class. And suddenly he transformed from the generally fairly quiet, soft-spoken, reserved child he is most of the time, and exclaimed with great flair: "Once upon a time!" He looked around. The audience was not up to his expectations. So he called to one of the kids: "Come, come sit here!" D came to sit by his chair. Again we start. "Once upon a time, spider.... No. You, J, you come here!" We start again...

So it went on until he at last had the whole class sitting and crouching around his chair. And then he launched into his 'spider story' with great gusto and animation. I think some of the story may have been missing, and I myself was at a disadvantage, knowing less of the spider stories than K's classmates. So I can't retell it here. But everyone really just revelled in seeing him come so alive, and responded with a great cheer at the end of the performance.

That's the story of my first Liberian story, I hope I'll never forget it. Since then, more did come, told by K, his classmates, and others - see next post with a 'stories' label.