Amy here writing to you in my hotel room at the Civitas, where sounds and smells of the street waft through the window on the breeze: motor bikes, Kigali residents chatting, car horns, wood burning fires, barbecued meats…
Rwanda, for me, has been a smorgasbord for my senses. In addition to sounds and smells like the ones described above, the sights have been breathtaking: a landscape of hills dotted with never ending houses. The tastes are divine: meat brochettes (skewers), the Primus beer, milky spicy sweet African tea… And most of all the touch of the KIE students, who show such physical affection to us: hugs, hand holding, the smiles they share – all of which get to the core of why I am so lucky to be here.
Today the applied theatre work we and the KIE students engaged in was both powerful and some of the most joyful I have experienced. Our forum plays were tweaked and performed. The first dealt with the oppression of a woman not being able to choose her education. The second dealt with the cruelty adopted children may face in new homes, and the third revolved around the domestic abuse of women. While the content of the models were heavy, the KIE and CUNY teams crafted brilliant moments of theatricality (including song, comedy, mime, slow motion etc) with the help of Chris Vine at our helm.
When it came time for the audience to intervene on the action and try to act out different options for the protagonists, the KIE students showed some of the most deft, intelligent problem solving skills I have witnessed in Theatre of the Oppressed. The title of this entry is inspired by something that a student said in defending his rights as an adopted member of the family who was working his fingers to the bone: “a person is not a machine.” In only 3 very short days, the KIE Level 2 students latched onto the nuances of forum theatre, and I was honored to both direct and perform the role of Joker for parts of the scenes – along with collaborators Shamilia and Rachel. The CUNY team stepped up to the plate, and we are all very proud of the work we did directing, “jokering”, and bearing witness to the magic of forum theatre today.
Our afternoon was, as someone said earlier, a “Joyfest” as it was time for Helen to lead us in a cultural exchange. The fact that we had already experienced mounting forum models with the students meant that we had started developing relationships with them, and therefore had a foundation of warmth and love to build our exchange off. KIE and CUNY respectively taught each other songs and dances that represented our cultures. We learned traditional songs about babies “Wirira” and about the beauty of Rwanda and we taught them “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round”, “Living on a Prayer”, and the “Electric Slide”! As Bennett hilariously said “I came all the way to Rwanda to learn the Electric Slide!” The room was filled with laughing, hugging, clapping, and a true spirit of cultural exchange.
I feel honored to represent my group in writing this entry today, and feel like words cannot do enough justice to what an amazing experience we are all having. That said, the work is challenging, we are working hard, and it’s not easy. But applied theatre is not easy, it’s risky; indeed as Boal says “change is not risk free.” This is a risk that I think we are all thrilled we have taken. More to come!