Categorised in: Sierra Leone 2014
By Performers Without Borders
I am sat on the balcony of our house in Kamakwei; children playing, a house being built, the well being used and all surrounded with lush greenery accompanied by the sound of distant roads and chattering voices. THIS is what I thought Africa would be like. (I’ll ignore the very loud chainsaw in the distance for the purpose of trying to set a lovely image for you all!)
We are now a far cry from air conditioning, electricity, shops selling more than the essentials and of course cold water. We have 4 rooms between us and after multiple trips to the well are all set with everything we need! Cockroach and lizard pets included. Our host family cooked for us the night we arrived…rice, cassava leaves and groundnut soup and although delicious it did blow our heads off! For the rest of the week Peachi is mother hen to us chicks, making sure we are fed and watered. He nearly blew his hands off trying to light the outdoor stove with kerosene until Mumma Jebe stopped laughing long enough to help him out…it’s all going very well!
The orphanage funded by Australian charity Orphfund is a short and wonderful walk away through palm trees, villages and lush greenery just past the local secondary school. The orphanage shares a sight with the primary school and there are 30 children living there. I was shocked to see their rooms after expecting a similarity to SOS Makeni. Here they are lucky if they have a mattress, even then they are thin and mouldy. It is more run down and dirty and the rooms have small piles of clothes dotted around the edges. They seem cramped but nonetheless extremely happy and grateful for what they do have. With so few belongings they take HUGE pride in going to school and their uniform, perhaps aided by the knowledge they’ll get a flogging if they are late or untidy. As we have found throughout our tour the Mothers and Aunties are big hearted and extremely kind, they have jolly personalities and are highly respected by the children. We had a wonderful welcome with singing and dancing, a great start to a wonderful week.
This week our focus has been different to before. Our aim is to create a show for the children to perform in followed by our acts then a fire finale. The orphans have been like sponges, soaking up everything we have taught them and they really have been a pleasure to teach. We have a booty shaking Beyonce number that ALWAYS ends with a dance off, 2 action packed cultural dances and enough circus skills to tour the world! As we have been able to teach every child once a day their skills have rocketed. There is a very talented bunch of hoopers, the diabolo spinners have mastered over the leg throws and the trampoline trick and one boy who had never juggled before is now mastering 4 balls! Now if that isn’t a success I don’t know what is.
Thursday was a real treat. We performed for the secondary school in their morning assembly to advertise the show and were met with big whoops and cheers! We were no longer the strange white people walking past their school every day and instead the travelling circus coming to town!
After a successful teaching day we marched into town with music blaring, flyers to hand out, circus toys and an ever growing entourage of excited children. (Later, after explaining the story to Brima and Morlai we all agreed we were like the Pied Piper of Hamlet!) We paraded through the town announcing the show and doing impromptu flash mobs…we even did a mini show for the Paramount Chief of Kamakwei and his family. Such a lovely moment to see 100 plus children making a huge circle outside his front door and their grinning faces as we juggled, hooped and danced. The Chief was amazed by the whole affair, he was so lovely and welcoming and promised to be our guest of honour on Saturday. It was a surreal moment but we all left upbeat, energised and very, very happy.
Friday came round surprisingly quickly and we spend the day polishing off the routines and finalising running orders with the children. We had a well-earned night out at a very surreal Beauty Pageant in the town hall to celebrate Valentine’s Day, which is unexpectedly a huge deal amongst the youth of Kamakwei. We played how many Africans does it take to change a light bulb and enjoyed the guy selling eggs at the disco. Three hours later we had seen the dimly lit silhouette of 2 contestants and decided to call it a night.
The show on Saturday was AMAZING! We turned up at the orphanage (after me and Emma had spent the morning getting African braids and new visors!) to see all of the children washed, dressed in matching outfits and ready to go! As soon as we had parked the car, all the little ones came flying at us, and it was cuddles all round. The older girls followed, so excited to show us their beaded hair and special costumes. It was great to see them so amped and excited for the show, it really made it clear why we are here doing what we’re doing. To be able to support a performance for kids like the ones in Kamakwei that have so little, was incredible. The excitement that came from knowing that the whole village had come to their home, to see THEM radiated off every single smiley face.
After starting with not much more than a big, dusty field, we soon had a stage with backdrop, a huge backstage area, seating, lights, music rigged up, flooring and 40 children in their costumes, faces and bodies painted – knowing exactly where, when and how to come on and off stage. Then when the audience were seated (with the Paramount Chief right at the front), it was showtime!
Opened by the youngest orphans singing a welcome song, the show got into full swing much to the amazement of the crowd who had clearly never seen anything like it before!! The children did so well and got a real buzz off performing. We did all of our regular acts and finished with a fire show, but it was so refreshing for the focus to be on the children and their achievements rather than on us. A great night was had by all and we were all ready for bed after a rewarding and challenging week in Kamakwei.
10 Things I love about Kamakwei
- Not being able to tell the difference between tan lines and dirt
- Being local celebrities
- Hair braiding
- Being laughed at for washing up wrong, Peachi being white & cooking and clothes washing too slowly.
- Having hoards of children help us get water from the well.
- The hat shop and cold drink shop in town.
- Pointing at invisible things in the distance to confuse children.
- The excitement from the children at an empty water bottle.
- The confused cockerel and baby chicks.
- Tim’s new hat and sandals.
1 Thing I hate about Kamakwei
- Someone keeps stealing my soap.