I have just had the most amazing, spine-tinglingly refreshing and totally African experience!
I staggered out of the lab with my books, exhausted but content after a busy day teaching. As I walked accross the field I heard the sound of chanting from accross the games field. It was loud! And in English.
“Father, have you forgotten your first born son?….. staggering, falling … a walking corpse!”.
How can I explain this? Its a sound we just didn’t get in England. If you were to overhear a bunch of English primary school girls reciting a poem, it would sound sweet; this had balls! It sounded more like:
“Aaah war-kin COPS!”
I dumped my books at home and wandered closer to listen to them. As I approached I was spotted. They know me because I often run past them on their way to school at 6.30am. “Brie-tish!” one shouted. I edged through a gap in the hedge to join them and they brought me a chair to sit on. They were rehersing for a poetry performance contest next tuesday. Instead of being shy at the arrival of a native English speaker, they welcomed me and took advantage of the chance to reherse in front of an audience.
The most amazing thing, however, was the discipline. There was one girl who was clearly in charge of the rehersal. She was so confident!
“No!”, she shouted at them, “Do not laugh. Move back! We begin.”
And they did.
They performed three poems with conviction and passion. The first, A Walking Corpse, was about saying no to drugs and alcohol; the second, Stop This Vanity, about FGM, the third, I deserve a decent life, about child labour. They looked at me in the eye as they spoke the lines and made me feel as if they really meant it when they were begging to be left uncut, or to receive a decent wage. Each one was preceeded by an introduction saying who they were (Tala Girls Primary School), who had written the verse and finally “Welcome”, they all said in chorus and curtsied.
Then they performed some solo verses. Two in English and one in Kiswahili which, they told me afterwards, was about sheng’.
Finally, of course, they said “One more!”, and it was my turn. I stood up, faced them and, with a serious face and matching their sincerety as best I could, I did Spike Milligan’s Granny. They participated, whooping and laughing, and looking suitably shocked when Auntie Fannie’s wig blew off.
I said I’d see them again and they invited me back every day at this time. I just need to remember some other poems!