Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lone reader wants more

Hey, my sole fan wants more details of the performance so here you are my dear.
The play went really well. We kept the story really simple coz there was so much info that needed to go in, and so much that needed to be discussed. Do I need to explain how this all works in case I have any shy quiet readers that I don’t know about? Yes lets. Right now we’re working on a programme looking at Human Wildlife Conflict, which is extremely political and a very difficult issue to tackle. Which is where we come in. We (as in a troupe of fabulously fabulous actors who are also researchers and all round good folk) go and live in the targeted village for a week (or more if necessary) and go and chat to people every day, finding out the burning issues in the area. We then analyse all this info and make a play (sometimes two) that specifically addresses these problems. The play itself is really interactive with the audience allowing for the audience to come up with their own solutions to their problems (duh). We get all the relevant government people, chiefs, headmen and so on together on the day of performance so that they can see what the audience has to say as well as be there to explain and clear up any issues there may be. Ah, I’m really not explaining it very well but its reeeaallyy effective and VERY rewarding coz we are able to bring out and discuss all these issues that people feel they can’t talk about.

The play basically followed the life of a family in Malama as they try to deal with baboons in their gardens, elephants knocking down their houses (this happened to someone just the night before we arrived) and general life in Malama. The two sons are forced to go poaching and they get caught. The family (as do most people in malama) realise the importance of wildlife and the benefits they get from tourism but are forced to go and poach – I prefer the word hunt – because they don’t have much other option. In Malama, where we were, it’s really in the middle of no-where. Right on the edge of Mfuwe – the last chiefdom before well, nothing. The road is terrible so there are no, like NO shops or market or anything. The nearest town is about 6 hours away (and that’s by car) and Mfuwe (hardly a town, but there are a few shops) is 3 hours away by car. Almost a full day’s cycle ride. It’s really in the middle of the bush so the elephants raid people’s gardens daily and all in all it’s a rather hazardous place to live. In order to combat this an organisation has supplied people with solar electric fences to put around their gardens and their villages so the elephants can’t get in. People are really happy with this, although a few elephants know how to tread on the poles to get in (without getting shocked) and can then destroy a family’s whole years supply of maize. If this happens the people will literally starve. And my favourites the baboons are also a real menace as they can get through the wire fences and chomp away on people’s crops as they fruitlessly try to chase them off. Since there are no shops and no money either really, people use bush meat to barter. A few brave people cycle down from Petauke with shoes, t-shirts, Vitenje (colourful cloth used as a wrap) and vegetables. The fences can only protect a small sized garden so people can only grow the staple maize and not vegetables. There are no veggies there. On our last days in Malama we ran out of the cabbage we brought with us so were eating chicken with fish as the veg “Now we are really in Malama” the actors said “Fish as veg!”. Since most people do not have money these goods are traded with game meat. People are literally forced to hunt, even though it is illegal.

Then there is the wildlife autghority's point of view. They are enforcing the government policy and as the police force here are NOT popular. The animals are protected and bring in revenue. The community (through the CRB – the Community Resource Board) gets quite a lot of money from tourism. Schools and clinics are built with these funds. This money pays for the solar fences. The problem here is that in most cases the money that comes in to the CRB gets to the executive committee and goes no further. There is NO accountability and the money just dis-a-ppears. Which was certainly the case in Malama. With the powerful chief as patron of the CRB and often very active in the pilfering people do not feel able to speak out.

So our job was to bring the community’s point of view to the attention of the wildlife authority, the wildlife authority’s point of view to the community and everything in between. And find solutions. The son, in the play (whose caught poaching) asks the wildlife authority man in the audience – “Answer me honestly. Could you manage to live the whole year without eating any vegetables? Only the occasional dish of pumpkin leaves or wild ocre?” In our research almost everyone said that when someone was killed by an animal the wildlife authority took days, if not weeks to come and investigate and then usually only send one officer, but if someone kills and animal then they come with car loads of wildlife police officers, cars bristling with firearms. Sarah, in the form of the long-suffering mother said this and the audience broke into applause. She asked the audience if this was true and a lady stood up and explained that it took almost a week for someone to come and investigate the death of man named Harrison in March. He was killed by an elephant. A very heated debate followed, and the actors did a sterling job of facilitating this. Wildlife authority explained their point of view really well and gave a public apology for their slow reaction.

Also brought to light the CRB nicking the money (but done very tactfully coz we didn’t want to piss the chief off who could basically close us down). When Bernard, acting the part of a grumpy old father, said that the CRB was not working properly and was ‘eating’ all the money the audience broke into applause. Finally! The issue is out. The poor chairman got a really hard time and at one point looked like he wanted to hit someone but at least its being discussed and they are being brought to account.

Oh there was lots more. Audience suggested more wire on the fences to stop the baboons, to look at CRB’s budget so that people can get compensated (the government does not compensate for loss of life or property by wildlife) and so on and so on and so on. I feel like I’m droning on and on and not explaining myself very well so I’m going to stop now. Overall though I’m chuffed. A win win situation, we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet, we’ve levelled the playing field and we haven’t moved the goal posts.

1 comment:

tam said...

but you have created a whole new box for people to think out of. or in, for that matter.
Well done, its so high time that this was done. Now if you guys can just come and stay in Alex for a week and do a play about Xenophobia...