Friday, December 7, 2007

The Once Elusive White Van and a Little Dancing

Yesterday after school, I had my first ride on one of the Libyan-donated white vans. It was indeed air-conditioned, but to my surprise cost only 100 leones more than the poda-poda for a total fare of about 45 cents. Although the ride was cool and dust-free, it was as bumpy as most poda-poda rides and just as tight a fit even with no one sitting in the aisles as each 3-person bench held 4 passengers. So in the end I needn't have worried that it would spoil me for the poda-poda.

Today was the end of test week at school, and after Class 6 finished its physical health education test, they had the morning off. After taking turns telling each other stories, they asked me to tell a few and then presented two short skits to me.

The first skit was the story of a wealthy couple beleaguered by persistent beggars, a blind man and his guide. The couple's wealth was dramatized by the delicious and copious meals the wife was able to serve her perennially hungry and adoringly amorous husband. The blind man was led around by a stick that his guide trailed behind while the pair announced their presence with a call and response hilariously acted out. In search of a way to rid themselves of the pesky beggars, the couple visited a medicine man marked all over with strange and wonderful chalk designs who read their stones and presented them with a calabash (represented by a one-liter water bottle) of poison. On the occasion of the beggars' next visit, the couple quickly presented them with the poison. As the blind man followed his guide down the street, however, two young thugs stole his bag containing the calabash. Thinking the calabash must contain a magic potion, they both drank it and immediately fell down dead. The couple meanwhile had noticed the absence of their two sons. When they went in search of the boys, they found the pair dead on the street with the empty calabash lying next to them. It was a wonderful piece with not the slightest hint of self-consciousness in performing for me and their classmates.

The second skit was a short one about a cowardly hunter. When sent out to bring back meat for his wife, he took along his young son. As soon as a wild animal presented itself, the hunter told the boy to crouch down and stay quiet. The cowardly hunter's knees knocking together vigorously, he could hardly hold onto his gun as he tried to take aim. Each time it seemed he might manage to pull the trigger, his son would cough and the hunter, terrified by the sudden noise, would fall over in dread. After a long day of coughing and terror, the hunter returned home, blaming his son's coughs for having scared away the game.

The comedy over, the students brought out a shekura (a large drum) and set to dancing. As soon as one of the boys began to beat a rhythm, younger students from the other classrooms began to skip and run across the playground to the classroom. The older children shut the door, but the little ones just lay down on the ground to peer in underneath. The ones who couldn't squeeze in began dancing little dances outside the door, clapping their hands and shouting delightedly. Eventually the door opened and everyone formed a circle around the drummer and individual dancers who took turns in the center. It was a preview of what is to come at next week's holiday party on the beach.

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