If you would like to view just the workshop report, click here.
This week’s trip was a little different from my previous adventures to the north – mostly because Irfadha joined me on my adventuring, and also because this was my very first weekend workshop. It was fun to do something a little different, and to have a friend join me on my generally solitary travels, and it was interestingly cheaper, too!
We took the 4.30pm train from Fort, along with all the hundreds of people going to Anuradhapura for the weekend. I’d had a few fiascos earlier in the day – I’d forgotten to book this week’s train tickets (because I went to Kandy to watch the Perahera on Wednesday, and in my head I thought, “Train tickets: check!” until Friday morning when I realised this most certainly wasn’t the case. I’d also had a meeting, and happened to leave the train tickets at Barefoot. Well done, Nushelle. It was definitely One Of Those Days, and I think it was a good thing, in the end, that second class tickets were entirely sold out, which meant I splurged on two ExpoRail tickets. Air-conditioning is a marvellous thing, especially when the train takes an hour longer than usual to reach its final destination! Another interesting surprise was that the ExpoRail carriage staff gave Irfadha a special snack including dates with which to break fast (yes, Irfadha agreed to come to Vavuniya while fasting – props to her!). We also got dinner, which I would like to note is a lot better than their “non-veg” egg roll breakfast. I do not consider eggs to be meat, unfortunately.
Irfadha and I had this rather incredible conversation about architectural theory (she’s an interior designer) and how much we like it and think it absolutely necessary. It was one of those “HOORAY!” conversations you unexpectedly fall into and leave you feeling nicely rejuvenated. We also talked about how curious it is that you learn so much about your country when you leave it. I also managed to get some scheduling done – Irfadha should be able to come with me once a month (which is quite a lot given the brevity of this programme) so I started blocking out dates for the next three months. So far, I’ve fallen into the trap of not planning further than two weeks, because of various commitments that pop up at the last minute. I’m going to have to be more disciplined about carrying out these workshops, though, since I will have to be done with these kids by the first week of November for two reasons – school exams are at the end of November, and monsoon rains will commence thereabouts too, rendering it impossible for me to even access the villages.
We arrived in V-town at almost 11, which gave us no time to do anything but shower and sleep. Mr Kamal, as usual, didn’t understand my instructions (I think it’s just that he’s too polite to say he doesn’t understand anything I say in English over the phone) and to my extreme embarrassment there was nothing for Irfadha to eat before she commenced fasting again at 4am. She was really sporting about it, but I can’t quite get over the fact that when she breaks fast again at 6.30pm today, she will have not had anything to eat since 8pm the previous night. And survived without drinking any water during the day in the heat of Vavuniya. Would that I had that kind of discipline.
We woke at 7, and after I’d breakfasted on two tea-buns (not the ones with a daub of pink strawberry-flavoured-melon-jam) we were out the door by 7.30. The two-hour ride to Chiraddikulam seemed to go faster than usual – the combined effects of having a friend and dozing off intermittently) and surprise! Driver-Kamal was back to escort us, in his comfortable air-conditioned van (which only cost me an extra Rs. 1000 – $10 – to make the longer trip to Chiraddikulam). I told him at the beginning that we were going to a new village, but everything I say appears to be unintelligible to everyone but Mr Kanapathy – Kamal tried to make the right turn to Kakkaiyankulam as usual, and was most surprised when I told him to keep driving straight.
By 9.30am, we were at Chiraddikulam, and I must say it really is nice to do morning workshops. In Vavuniya, the sun burns fiercely even at 7.30 in the morning, but there is still that nice fresh morning-quality to the workshops amidst the intense heat. The kids took a while to arrive, but when they all did, I found I had five additions (although the two boys who went home when Maheshwair tried to discipline them didn’t make an appearance today), three (?) of whom are girls. Yay! Unfortunately, it meant I only had just enough food and drink for them all, and I was momentarily extremely stressed out about the possibility of not having enough. Irfadha, however, has the ability to Keep Calm And Carry On, which was very welcome.
We started off with the relay game I introduced in the last session at Kakkaiyankulam, and as Tracy suggested on Friday, I will also include other games in future, like Dog and the Bone, and Stuck In The Mud.
The Name Pose game went really badly the first time I played it in Kakkaiyankulam, and I was actually quite curious to see how much of a failure it would be in Chiraddikulam. It was interesting – the children at Chiraddikulam also turned to Bharatha Natyam movements, or couldn’t think of anything. So I put the game on pause, as with Emotions Charades the week before, and told them to come up with crazy moves. I started them off – I’d completely forgotten about my great talent for making a fool out of myself. The children found me hilarious, especially when I did a head-rolling move that they declared made me look as though I were drunk. So I obligingly acted drunk for them a little longer. My own madness started rubbing off on them, and they thought I was looking at someone else, they started coming up with moves that had nothing to do with dance and were nothing short of incredible. Thibadhashini, in particular, who freezes up when I look at her, started coming up with actions and movements that really came from her head and not her dance class or from Tamil films. I really wish I had photos of these, but photos always make things a little artificial, and I’m glad that it happened at all. I really wasn’t expecting it to go so well. We tried the game again, and the children struggled a little to understand what it meant to copy the pose of the person before them, and then come up with their own ones. The girls reverted a little back to classical dance movements, but it was more successful than before. However, it’s interesting to note how differently they behave/perform when I give them restrictions (within the framework of the game) and when we’re just playing the fool.
We broke for Milo and buns, and then Thushyanthan was called up to read his previous week’s essay on his feelings when his father told him not to go to school, but went anyway at the advice of his mother, subsequently getting late and having to explain to ‘Sir’ (who was waiting outside) why he’d gotten late. It had the skeleton (if not the meat) of a drama, and he was really the only one not to have written a one-line essay: “I was sad when I lost my eraser/I was angry when my mother hit me/I was happy when I had a birthday”. He is also the most promising of the lot as an actor, and his small present of stickers seemed to spur the other children on, though, and they looked a lot more confident this week about tackling the same topic again. They wrote much longer essays, although I’ll have to wait until the essays are translated to see what subject matter they cover! One rather poignant moment was when they saw my sharpeners. They weren’t the ordinary ones that spill shavings as they sharpen – they had a tiny little “cap” that fitted into the sharpener-bottom and let you save the shavings for when you could get to a dustbin. These sharpeners were quite ordinary too, but they looked upon them with such wonder that I decided I’d found a new “prize” for kids who write well.
I meant to do much more in this workshop – I wanted to let them draw, and also introduce the walk-stop-clap game, but we ran out of time and I could tell they were a bit restless after the writing activity. They asked if they could play again with the two plastic balls I brought, so we ended our session with another bout of relay races, before ending our workshop with group photos and distributing the chocolates and mini-jellies Irfadha brought courtesy of her uncle (thank you, Mr Muzammil!).
On our way back, we were flagged down at one of the army camps, and politely asked if we could take three of their officers with us to Vavuniya. So three army boys, decked out in civilian attire and accompanied by ginormous bags, rode in the back of our van as we made our two-hour journey back to the town. In the town we stopped at the bank (so I could withdraw money to pay the hotel with), at Cargills (so Irfadha could buy snacks and the army officers could go to the bus stop on the opposite side of the road) and at the bakery where Maheshwari works (so she could get some samosas to break fast with).
It got a little rushed after that, trying to fit in showers and lunch (for me) and paying my bills into the 45 minutes we had left. It didn’t help that Prince Caspian was showing on tv (dubbed in Tamil, of course), and I happened to be having lunch in the middle of the free-for-all. But I managed to tear my eyes away, and we managed to zoom off to the station just five minutes behind schedule. This has been my most efficient trip yet, both in terms of time and money, and I decided to keep it efficient by overcoming both my desire to sleep, and my embarrassment at pulling out my laptop in the train (second class is not the same as ExpoRail), and jotting down this week’s adventures. I’m really glad I have a new computer.
PS: There were no metered taxis from Fort (I refused to wait half an hour for one) and I took a tuk (!) from the Fort railway station to my house – 250 rupees cheaper! Good to know.
PPS. I just checked my little book, and at least two of my new girls are 12, and have been told before they couldn’t be part of this workshop (I took down names at the time) – they would have to wait until I did the one for the 12-15 years olds in Jan. Now I’m not sure what to do. It’s nice to have more girls in this workshop, but will that mean fewer girls when I do workshops in Jan? I need to find out their real ages once and for all, and make a decision.