Greetings from Mufindi,
The stage is set and we have a cast of 20 budding actors ready to make their debut performance in front of 545 classmates, their teachers, their bibis (grandmothers) and babus (grandfathers). The Ukimbi (Community Hall) will be filled to capacity! Good friends from home and new friends from Mufindi have played a big part in this production. The idea germinated last year when my dear friend, Liz Priestman, discovered the enchanting African version of The Princess and the Pea by Rachel Isadora. Liz and I then created a "big book" depicting a Mufindi adaptation of the timeless Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. For the past year groups of Igoda school children have been huddled on the library floor reading from this big book. Meanwhile at home my previous teaching partner, Carol Brown, generously offered to make a "story sack" containing costumes to accompany the story. She skillfully used my bundles of Kenyan and Tanzanian material collected over the years. I managed to cram the sack, the size of Santa's sack, into my luggage. Thank goodness for sympathetic airport handlers!
After telling and reading the story to Akida, Frida and Given, talented 20 year olds, the reins were handed over to them. Akida and Frida have become the directors and we have now lost COMPLETE artistic control - which is as it should be! Only once and awhile is Canadian interjection heard. They began by rewriting the story in Kiswahili and Kehehe (the tribal language) with many cultural elaborations. For example, in the original play the Prince travels around Africa looking for a Real Princess. In their innovative interpretation, the Prince tells his parents before leaving on his epic journey that he's lonely and needs a wife - a wife to keep his bed warm at night. Oh dear! Big sighs and concerned looks from our corner of the planning room!! We diplomatically tried to explain this play was for children. After lots of laughter we assumed they had altered it but who knows as our Kiswahili is weak. On the first day of rehearsal 20 very shy students entered the cavernous hall and noiselessly made their way to the front of the stage. After introducing them to the story the directors asked them what parts they would like to play. Not one hand shot up. Akida then asked them to put their heads in their laps and when he tapped them they could call out the part they would like. Their whispered replies could barely be heard amongst the embarrassed giggling. Yes, we finally had a cast and it was time to begin.
For Ruth and I the transformation over the past two weeks has been miraculous as we've watched children take their first tentative steps on stage. It was much like witnessing caterpillars slowly emerging from their cocoons and taking delightful flight. They have ALL found their wings and their voices as their improvised dialogue can be heard from the back of the long hall. Magic occurred when they first tried on their costumes. The play has grown as daily Mufindi adaptations are incorporated - a formal proposal to the princess and a FULL church wedding conducted by Yusto, a lay preacher and Igoda's inspirational teacher librarian. Loud hallelujahs, drumming, cheers, songs and joyful dancing punctuate the wedding celebrations of the Prince and Princess. The only nod to tradition is when the cast end in unison, "And they lived happily ever after!"
The rehearsals have been a delightful ending to our school days. Children here never get an opportunity to creatively and exuberantly express themselves as they are in such a stifling structured environment within the classroom setting. Curtain call is Wednesday after "meal in a mug". Twenty stars have been born! Perhaps this will become an annual event!