At Least For Now
I will leave South Africa tomorrow at 3:00 PM South African Time. It's been an emotional few days. I plan to keep up this blog once I get back to the States. I have a feeling the experience is going to stick with me, and there is still so much to share. But, now, I want to share the past few days with you all.
Thursday night was our last evening at Ethembeni. We had an art show for the students with all their work mounted and hung in the halls and there was Ellen Stewart's play with the kids as well as a separate play that my friends Katie and Meghan directed with the a few other kids. I walked into it as if it were any other day with the kids. I wasn't prepared for how I would end up feeling Thursday. None of us were.
We started class like it was any other. The students were finishing their comic books for the show. As they finished Alyssa started wire sculptures with them. They worked with the same focus they have for the past 4 weeks. They were so into the work, intent on finishing. Pizza came for them and Alyssa and I had bought them little bags of cheese pretzels, but none of them wanted to stop and eat. Finally, we just brought the food to their desks. As they all started finishing and eating, it hit us all that it was really ending. One of my favorite students, Siphokazi, a 3rd year prefect, came up to me, "I want you to know, in case I never see you again, you've had a huge impact on my life." She had tears in her eyes and we hugged. There were lots of hugs. I urged them to keep drawing, practice. I urged them to keep looking at everything around them and telling stories. Mamosa and her sister Mathapelo hugged me and said they would miss me. The boys hugged me. Xholoni, the big rugby player, hugged me. As I hugged him I apologized for never mastering his name which has a Xhosan click in it. He responded, "Maybe you can't say my name, but you did remember it." At this point, it was pretty miraculous that I was holding it together at all. They all wanted our addresses and they gave us theirs. We said a few words about how proud we were of them. I thanked them for being my first class and all that I learned from them. One student, Leon, called me over to his desk and presented me with a long stick with designs burned into it. "I want you to have this. It is my walking stick. I used it in my initiation." I thanked him profusely. The initiation into manhood is a Xhosan tradition when boys come of age. I was told a few minutes later by our Arts and Culture teacher, Alethea, that receiving the stick was a great honor. This was the 5th time in the evening I nearly started crying. The kids parents and family came and were so proud of their art. The kids were running around showing off their work and showing their family and teachers their comic books. I didn't think it could possibly get any better or any more emotional.
We all filed into the auditorium, and sit down. The principal went up and said some lovely things about us, so lovely that Hanna, one of my fellow classmates, started crying and I hugged her and felt tears well up in my eyes too. Then Ellen Stewart's show began. All I can say is that the kids have the most beautiful voices and they sang with such passion. Next, Katie and Meghan's kids performed their play, Master of the Microphone, a play about an aspiring rapper that has to choose between his friends and family and a career. The kids wrote the play themselves, in about 2 weeks. Katie directed them. They were funny and very professional.
After the play was over, one of Meghan and Katie's students came up and spoke about how they appreciated Meghan and Katie working with them. At this point more of the cast was on stage and they called Meghan and Katie up and presented them with lovely beaded collars that they had chipped in to buy for them. The beaded collars are a tradition among the tribes here. As the collar is placed on Katie, she started crying, and once again so do we all. There were more hugs after. A few of my students find me again we all hugged some more.
We came home buzzing with a complicated combination of happiness and sorrow. So of course, we had to go eat and then sing karaoke. But, before we did that we decide to buy newspapers as Pratt was mentioned in an article about Ellen Stewart. There are 6 homeless boys we always see in the neighborhood, hanging outside the convenience store. They are aged between 7 and 10. Alyssa buys them apples and a bag of popcorn. Someone else gives them bread and Meghan gives them a pack of jerky. Alyssa says, "I'm feeling unstable." But, I don't think it was weakness so much as humanity and I assured her it was an awesome thing to do. However she couldn't talk for a minute and walks ahead a bit. So you see, karaoke was absolutely necessary.
Mike is a musician and so was an instant hit with the South African bar crowd. He rocked Tiny Dancer as it's never been rocked before. The crowd went wild. The Pratt group's version of Love Shack was not as warmly received, but I think they were just tired.
Friday, we went to the dolphin show at nearby, Bay World. There's nothing like a dolphin show with friends. Then, it was off to a massive dinner, at an Italian restaurant with most of the people that have made this trip special. The Pratt group was there of course, but so was Alethea, the South African professor without whom we'd know nothing of the real South Africa. James, our driver and knower of all things about South Africa and it's wildlife was there. We've all grown to love him. Marc our tour guide was also there, as well as Asanda and Lubabalo, who have helped us with the students. Linkah, the Nelson Mandela University student who shared puppetry class with us was there too. A few of us went for dessert after. There were a lot of good byes, and again, some tears welling.
This morning, our last morning with my roommate and teaching partner, Alyssa, we got up to watch the sunrise. Course it was hiding behind a cloud, but it was still lovely and quiet. The light was all silvery as we stood there saying nothing until Alyssa turns to us and says that she thinks the sun is probably up already.
I didn't actually start crying until I told Alyssa good bye this morning, and we were hugging. This was silly as we're both going to Pratt and she'll be living in Brooklyn near the college soon. She's also totally coming to our puppetry final in a couple of weeks. Still, I was bound to fall apart sooner or later.
The most surprising thing to result from this trip are the friendships, both with the people in the program and the people we met here. And as I write this I'm feeling pretty damned grateful for the experience and the people I've shared it with. I'm also about to bawl, of course. So, of course, many thanks to my students, for being so earnest and eager to learn and for teaching me as much as I taught them. And very special thanks to Alyssa, Katie, Hanna, Eileen, Meghan and Mike for hanging with me, encouraging me, supporting me, and making me laugh like I haven't in a long, long time. This time tomorrow I'll have already said good bye to you all, except for Katie who's miraculously got the same flights as me all the way home. But, I'll see you guys on the other side of the pond, back home. Someday, I know I'll come back, but it won't be the same without you all. It will be a whole other overwhelming experience, wonderful surely but very different, no doubt.
The next post will likely be from the comfort of my apartment surrounded by John, Jackson, Tobey and Max. As I will also be returning to wireless, the next post will also have some awesome photos! So stay tuned, people!