Archive for June, 2012

Kids will be kids… No matter where you go!

We finished the first week with our class yesterday. Through the day, we had a sprinkling of kids ask us if we were going have class for the entire day. We said yes. If we asked why, they ‘just wanted to know’. Even Anthony, the History teacher, who is with us every day made sure he asked us the schedule for the day. After lunch, they were all over the building and we didn’t understand why. On any other day, they would be playing a game together, ready for us. As we walked to class, one of the girls, Clara, was walking out with a book in her hand. She was ‘going to the library to return the book’. OK, we had enough hints to ask what exactly was going on. Why was it so important to return a book at that moment. Apparently, on Fridays after lunch the entire school went out to play.

Duh! Of course! When we let them go, they were thrilled. We later noticed that the library was conveniently located right next to the area where they play soccer, and that Clara was playing, book in hand. She told us she was ‘just about to return the book’. Lol! I went back to my school days for a minute – the same excitement on our faces when a teacher was absent, or class was rescheduled for whatever reason.

We have incredible kids. I can’t say it enough. And it’s endearing to watch them get used to us, and relax a little bit more through the week. From impeccable behavior, to chewing gum in class, passing notes to each other, getting into tussles over Zip-Zap-Zop. It’s a pleasure to do that kind of classroom management.

So at the end of the week, we have a rough draft of our play! All written by them through writing prompts and improv. There’s a lot of work to do this weekend, putting it all together into a script. Can’t wait!


At the end of the day, the little ones who wonder who we are through the day, come running to our car to play.

Ever heard of starting a class 40 minutes early?

At 8:20 this morning, Ione and I walked into our classroom to set up and be ready for a 9am start and this is what we walked into – The kids were halfway into playing ‘Wiggalo’, a game we taught them yesterday, our first day with them. We immediately dropped our bags and joined in! At the end of the day, exhaustion got the better of us, but I will never forget the energy and enthusiasm we walked into this morning! Its contagious and addictive.

The kids are just wonderful!!! Even though there are challenges, they make it easy! Being in their midst makes me forget the whirlwind of a weekend we had. We are two days in, and are already amazed by the incredible writing and material they have generated. There is an openness and receptiveness about them that makes me want to work harder, encourage further and push deeper. Oh, and, I have never known bathroom breaks to be over with such lightening speed!! They cant wait to get back to class!

We give them a good laugh when we attempt to speak in Swahili!

St. Margaret’s Academy is in the Kesongo district in Arusha and is a constant work in progress. The story of its creation and growth, all helmed by the powerhouse Mama Tesha, is an inspiring one – I will have to devote another post to her.

We are in a brand new building on the 2nd floor that has a stunning view of hills and nature; lots of natural light and newly painted walls. I love the simplicity of the room and do not miss the over stimulated classrooms that I  am so used to. No blasting air conditioners, just a cool breeze blowing in; no walls full of vocabulary and grammar and Science and Math and English, just a fresh coat of paint.

We leave early in the morning when its chilly and foggy. By the time we are on our way back, processing the day and decompressing, the sun is out, shining brightly. The biggest treat for us is driving back at the end of the day with Mount Meru on our left, majestic and magnificent. It looks different every day. Today clouds circled around the lower half of the mountain and bordered one of its slopes.

Looking forward to what tomorrow has in store…


A clash of worlds . . . and Shahrukh Khan

June 22

From the moment I stepped off the plane at Kilimanjaro International Airport, all my senses have been stimulated by waves of familiarity. The sights, the smells, the people, the food (yes, even the food) – all remind me of home, of India. It is such a surreal feeling, and yet, it’s so special to be here in the town of Tengeru in Arusha.

We were warmly welcomed by the staff of Mama Simba’s Lodge last night along with a ‘light dinner’ waiting for us, which was by no means light. Delicious, flavorful, yet simple home cooked food – BLISS – especially after being in transit for 20 hours. The quaint, rustic lodge reminded me of the Majestic Hotel in Udwada (Gujarat, India) where we used to stay when we were kids.

Waking up this morning to another delicious meal, I was transported yet again, this time to 5 years ago when I performed at the most unique venue in Pondicherry, India . Adishakti, headed by Veena Pani, is a haven for artists from all disciplines, from all over the world. With green everywhere, an exquisite sound of silence interrupted by the laughter and smiles of people with a lot of heart, I felt pangs of something I could not express then, or now. I know this though, I am home.

Between intense work sessions, scheduling and planning, we have the opportunity to step outside and go into town for housekeeping errands. This time I felt like I was at Colaba Causeway, Bombay, surrounded by touristy coffee shops and boutiques, along with arts and crafts vendors trying to sell me anything I wanted.

The road to the market wasn’t too different from the drive to Pune. The cycles, the cows, the trucks, the buses, the cars – ok, there wasn’t any honking. And then, as I was trying to take all of this in, going back and forth between the Tengeru market I was in and Crawford market in Bombay, amidst framed pictures including those of Jesus, flowers, smiling blonde women and embracing couples; there in all his posed glory, was none other than Shahrukh KhanImage! The teenager in me succumbed to fits of laughter. The caption on the picture ironically said ‘The merciful one is the unlucky one’. I asked the shopkeeper if he knew who this was; he didn’t. I had to capture the moment on camera!

Speaking of capturing moments, I have now learned first-hand that the locals do not like their picture taken. We passed some women who were drying and frying fish. It was quite a powerful image and I started clicking. One of them saw me and got very upset, and asked me to either give her money, or delete the pictures. Long story short, on someone’s suggestions, I ended up ‘tipping’ her on the condition that the pictures would be of the fish and not her.

Ione Lloyd says it best – If you were at Macy’s doing your own thing, and someone randomly started taking pictures of you, how would you feel?

Making mistakes, going back in time and place, unlearning and relearning – the journey has just begun.

Practicing Detachment . . . or at least trying.

Grace and Ronald – Just Married!

June 23

Grace and Ronald are the sweetest newlyweds you will ever meet! Grace is the ITLP Program Director for the Tanzania schools and her husband Ronald, an accomplished musician, will be joining the Teaching Artist team.

It is not easy being bombarded with questions by 5 crazy New Yorkers, but somehow they managed to keep us all calm. Not that we had incredulous demands, but being in a new land with a new language, and a program starting in a day, there are bound to be questions, tons and tons of questions. They have been so helpful, supportive and awesome to hang out with, it makes this collaboration seem so perfect, and the idea of not being around them that much more difficult to handle.

It is way past midnight and I can’t sleep. We all stayed up until an hour ago sharing our games and curriculum, using each other to see what worked and what didn’t, singing, dancing, laughing through it all. All day we’ve tried to pick up as much Swahili as possible, speaking it ever so confidently in a variety of broken phrases, trying to impress ourselves and each other, failing miserably at times, and surprising ourselves at others. Having just met, we are still getting to know each other, not to mention being completely jetlagged, mentally over stimulated, and emotionally who-knows-what – but we still had an incredible day!

Tomorrow Ione and I leave the lodge and head to Mama Tesha’s house. The principal at St. Margaret’s School in the town of Mojamba, she will be hosting us in her house, as the school is located an hour away from the other 2. I’ve only been here a day, and it deeply saddens me that we have to leave. Of course, we know we will have an experience unlike any other, but the idea of not being able to come back and relax with the rest of the team and share our days, our successes and challenges, seems to dampen the spirit . . . for now. I know for a fact that I will feel differently within the week. Until then . . .


Meet Ione!

The lovely Ione lloyd

My  partner teacher, Ione Lloyd and I had our third work session this morning. We are two days away from leaving and we seem to be keeping it together for the most part . . . or so we think? Who knows!

I was having a conversation the other day with someone who had lots of questions about this trip to Africa, and the topic of co-teaching came up. I explained how I had just met Ione a few weekends ago, and we’ve been paired up to work together at the St. Margaret’s School in Arusha. And then I went into this extensive conversation about how we had come up with some pretty darn awesome plans for our workshop. But in my heart I know, (and if you’re a teacher, you know this too!) these ‘awesome’ plans will either work beautifully or fall flat! And we are preparing for both.

That’s what I love about Ione. She brings me back to Earth during the times I get too idealistic in our planning sessions. She becomes my mirror of reality at times, reminding me what we are working with. We’ve by now spent hours discussing, agreeing, disagreeing, working, rejecting, re-working curriculum, but we make sure we’re constantly moving ahead. I look forward to teaching with her, and getting to know her outside the walls of Caffe Bene, which, by the way, is a great meeting spot in the heart of Times Square. Despite their slow service, their waffles are worth the wait. Haven’t tried the pastries yet, but they sure look delishh! The cozy library-esque seating area doesn’t get too crowded, and you can actually get work done in the heart of crazy-tourist-town!

The lists are getting shorter, still lots to be done, and exactly 36 hours to go . . . breathing in, breathing out.

A glimpse into the ramblings of my mind.

ITLP Teaching Artists, past and present.
Photo – Reinaldo Green

I leave for Africa in less than a week. There are lists everywhere, on my phone, on my desk, in my head. I keep checking things off of them, but the lists don’t seem to get any shorter. In the meantime, work keeps coming my way. Yep, that ol’ saying about how if you want to book work as an actor, book a trip somewhere and the work will come pouring in; the saying that I thought would never apply to me; well it just did! And I’m grateful, very grateful, but my mind feels like its ready to explode. I’m trying hard to focus on one thing at a time.

I check Facebook, hoping for a distraction – of course it doesn’t work – too much information in my face. And then I look at this photograph taken a few weeks ago at the International Theater and Literacy Project (ITLP)  training weekend, and calmness ensues. These are some of the wonderful volunteer artists who will be joining me on an adventure in Africa this summer. Teams are headed to Rwanda, Tanzania and Cape Town to work with children, introduce them to the Imagination, teach them Theater, create a play with them, and rehearse for a 3 show run – one for their community, one for a play festival and one for their school. There’s a lot of work to be done!

In the midst of all the lists, I keep thinking – however much we came into the field of the Arts to be amidst creativity, expression and the joys of artistry, the other side to it, the business side, becomes a harsh truth if not embraced immediately. I, for one, am constantly striving towards maintaining a balance between the two without losing heart and patience.

The training weekend was a beautiful experience – everyone was there because they WANTED to be there. No one had to leave to head to meetings, or rehearsals, or other mysterious busyness that becomes such a predominant and sometimes even pretentious factor in our lives as artists. This was a generous group of people who were there to Give with no expectations other than the fulfilling and most likely, life-changing experience this was to be. It was humbling to share the room with them.

Back to the lists. . . Sigh!

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