Weaving Spiders Come Not Here.
Hence you Long Legged Spinners, Hence!
It is still Day One in Botswana, Africa. Tomorrow is my first day to meet the children at Motopi school, but today my luggage is lost and I have been traveling over 24 hours and I have no change of clothes. I took pains to pack responsibly for Africa and the thought of going three weeks without supplies … well, I can’t fathom it, so I don’t, and for some inexplicable reason…I don’t really care in this moment. I am in Africa. And I have a local hero named Brooks Kamanakao with me now on this side of the world. I am learning a new way to think here – my first five minutes on the continent.
Before taking off for Motopi, we settle down at a food joint near Maun Airport: Indian food. I instantly start meeting locals – cousins, nephews brothers of Brooks…in fact, the brother of Brooks, called “Machine” tells me he is a teacher and he is curious about his student also learning some acting exercises and maybe Shakespeare. English is a good thing, they tell me, they want their kids to be fluent. It gives them an edge. Swana is only spoken in Botswana. Now I get it.
After curry dinner with locals, Brooks takes me to a grocery store – most items are imported from South Africa. We get food for the week. Granola, milk in a box, potatoes, carrots and bottled water and some tea biscuits to last until the week’s end.
We load into Brook’s car and make a pit-stop to check on a house he is building in Maun. This is where I first encounter the Botswana House Spider: the size of my hand. I have arachnophobia. This is going to be a challenge for me every day. They are in all the houses. They are like wall paper. Brooks notices my reaction to the spider immediately; though I was quiet, my eyes were not. He tells me about an American girl whining, “OMG, Mom, I wanna go home, like right now!” I vowed to face this fear and overcome it. And what would happen in the days to come was….an onslaught of them everywhere I was. Every room, every lobby, and finally on my pillow! Hence, you long legged spinners, hence!!!
We next pick up a woman called “Chicken” who owns the house where I will stay. Chicken lives in town but she let her house out for my weeks in her village.
The road to Motopi is filled with potholes, so every car swerves along the road, which is a funny sight when you’re not used to it. Dense trees on either side of the road – the sky is filled 360° with animated clouds telling stories. I can’t stop staring. We talk and talk on the trip, stopping at a Checkpoint where we get out of the car and step in a wet box of soda solution which is for magically averting hoof & mouth disease. Brooks tells me about the virus that wiped out Botswana’s beef industry years back. They are still recovering.
After a beautiful hour’s drive, we turn onto a dirt road and drive over a river. Cows and donkeys are headed home for the night – a few blocking the road.
Brooks brings me to Motopi School first thing in the morning to meet the Mma Bharata (the School Head) who brings in all the teachers.
The school is a group of buildings on dirt and overlooking a field. There are classrooms, offices, a kitchen and toilets way off in the field. I hear a rumor about the kids killing a python in the yard recently.
I meet the school headmistress and Brooks speaks in Swana, so that my words are understood, but she does speak English. I show what we do at Los Angeles Drama Club by playing some videos of our young L.A. Players.
It is obvious on Day One that they aren’t sure what to do with me but I know that if I could just have some time with the students and share the theatre games, yoga and communication exercises then I would be able to see if they could then take on some Shakespeare.
The teachers were sweet, some shy, some curious, funny and verbal – but all of them very welcoming to visitors!
Class has started and it’s time to meet the Children of Motopi School. Mma Bharata brings me around to each classroom. When we enter each class, the children immediately rise and greet us in English: “Good morning, teacher!” I say “good morning, how are you?”
“We are fine, Madame.” From pre-school to seventh grade, they wear uniforms and are impeccably groomed.
I see that most of them speak “academic” English and now it will be interesting to see what they can grasp. Sitting in Mr. Joel’s 7th grade class, I watch them share sentences they wrote. They seemed afraid to speak aloud: not volunteering … they were answering questions about adjectives, superlatives and comparisons in sentences. Everybody was reticent, though Mr. Joel talked with passion and tried to engage them.
Then Mr. Joel called on me to answer a question about superlatives, but I decided to only offer help with their breath. So we moved the topic over to the fact that they aren’t really breathing right. Everyone was invited to stand up. I wanted to watch how/where they placed breath in their bodies. It was all over the place, like the Los Angeles children who are taught to suck in their stomachs and puff out their chests to breathe!
We got the class to begin to breathe into their bellies and sigh out on the exhale. It was a new activity for them and definitely a new feeling. They were then asked to repeat some sentences that they had constructed but with the new breath behind it. I tried to stop them from exhaling before they spoke. The ones who inhaled deeply and spoke their sentences showed immediate improvement, but were still not loud enough to be heard by the entire classroom.
I challenge them to go outside and make me hear their voices from 40 feet away though the window. This worked well. After that, I left them with the promise to return with a speech that they would learn from the Tempest. On the way to wherever I would land next, I see some first-graders running around. They all huddled together to get in a picture but instead I gave them one thing to say: “To be or not to be.”
After three times, they did it. I told them one day they will hear those words again on stage. This is how it started. And what happened next, and in the course of the weeks, really did fulfill my wildest dreams.
To be continued …