So I was riding through the dusty loose-stoned cow- tracked korongo on my motorbike yesterday, on my way to meet P. And I was having this conversation with her, in my head, saying “I’ve ridden through that korongo so many times I can’t believe I fell off”
And as soon as the thought was out there in the atmosphere, BAM, I hit a stone and tumbled off, banging my knees and hitting my head on a rock. Thank god for helmets!
As I said, I was on my way to meet P and we were going to drive to a performance a couple of hours’ drive away, in Karatu. The actors are camping there for a week, then they’re off to another spot for a week. Ten weeks performing, three weeks rest, then another ten weeks. Covering all districts in the country, two groups, performing twice a day. Shew.
The play, if you’re interested, is about children’s rights. 50% of Tanzania’s population is under the age of 18 and the premise is, if we don’t look after our children now, treat them with love and respect then what of the future? What will the future leaders and citizens be like? How to develop as a nation when children are routinely beaten, spat at, called dogs?
Beating, burning children with hot knives, tying their hands together so they can’t fight back. These are all extremely common ways of disciplining children. It is so common that trying to get across the message that it is wrong is very hard. It is normal. ‘It’s how we teach we our children.’
When we first started creating the play, I had a file full of information. Statistics. How many young girls have to drop out of school because they have been fallen pregnant by teachers (8,000 girls dropped out of school in 2007 due to pregnancy); how many people have experienced at least one type of physical violence as a child (70% of females and 67% of males); that nearly 30% of females described their first sexual intercourse as unwilling. The stats go on and on and on.
So we spent the first week with the actors (twelve of them all together – two casts of six each) and swopped stories. Of the twelve actors only one had never been routinely beaten (only once, she said). They all started comparing scars and stories. One of them had stolen food from the pot as a child and blamed it on his younger brother. So his mother got the brother, tied his wrists together, filled his hands with dry grass and kindling and set it alight. Until his fingers burnt almost to the bone. Another shows a scar where she was burned with hot knife. Another tells how her young child always went through her and her husband’s pockets looking for coins. So in order to teach her not to she tied her daughter’s hands up and beat her until she knocked her teeth out. “I thought I was teaching her not to steal”. The stories, like the stats, go on and on.
Our challenge of course is to take this information and try and make an exiting, positive and interesting play. I firmly believe in positive messaging, and keeping things light despite the heavy topic. The heavy stuff is there, of course, but I think it is very important to balance this out with the fun, the positive, the happy. Laughter is a way of making intimidating issues more manageable. Positive thinking, positive messaging.
So the story follows the life of a boy Ilunje/Kitonyo (the two plays are slightly different which is fun, same basic story but the spicing, if you like, is distinct for each play) and his step-sister as they navigate through childhood. There are scenes of abuse, of hope, of hunting, fishing, working and playing.
We’ve tried to keep it real, break down stereotypes, balance out the serious with the fun and above all, not to lecture, not to wag fingers, look superiorly over the tops of our spectacles and say condescendingly, “now now, don’t do that’. The play is interactive with the audience so they have a say in what goes on.
mother and son
Am I boring you? It’s hard to explain, doesn’t translate very well, but culturally especially, it’s very effective.
Aaanyway. The actors have been amazing. I auditioned them from all the small theatre groups and societies in Arusha, trained them up and created this play, over a few months. They are so excited to be on the road and are very very keen, enthusiastic and energetic! They say that Tanzania has never seen any theatre like this. They want to perform as much as they can wherever they can.
I hope it lasts, its early days. But I think it will.
Positive thinking, right?