Kori Arts - Crossroads, TANZANIA

Arusha to ST JUDES

Olusola Adebiyi
My journey to Tanzania like everyone else’s in KORI Arts began in January when we were invited to the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) by Edward Jacka Lusala. However, due to term time commitments (working in a Tottenham primary school) I was unable to go until the final week of the KORI Arts programme…
After an interminable journey including a Transit stop in Muscat Airport Oman – (Ironic considering the enslavement and conquest relationship the Arabs of Oman built with the Africans of Zanzibar: Tanzania) – Landing at the Julius Nyere Airport, Dar es Salaam was a blessed relief. I walked out into the blazing
sunshine of the land of Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti and thatenigmatic people the Masai; hoping to be met as arranged by Steph’ and Lyd’ two of our mentees whose Tanzanian odyssey had ended and who were preparing for a homeward journey.
Sights: concrete paving stones, tiny boutiques crammed with a mish-mash of
western orientated must haves… A dingy internet cafe serving the urgent and the ungodly, friendly faces: smiling. familiar faces(!) smiling… Steph’ and Lyd’ (whoop! whoop!)
Sounds: cacophony of excited greeting yells, chaos of taxi touts, rich sea tones of musical language, Swahili, flowing like a welcome torrent ‘karibu’ to virgin ears. Friendly shouts; happy. Familar shouts: joyful Steph’ and Lyd’ (you guessed it)!
That first evening is a whirlwind of sensory overload, puddle laden dirt roads, contrasting with ultra modern (deadly to cross) highways. Roaring smog belching 4 by 4s jumbled in with a mix of the ancient (oxen drawn carts) and the
sublime: timeless call of the Athan (the Muslim call to prayer). Laden with luggage, nostrils clogging with ever present dust, catch-up conversation with
the recently met (you know who they are)! Cloudless sky, red kissed with dusk’s evening tones, gigantic poster shouting: Vodacom!  adjacent to another featuring
a cowrie shell laden, whirling dancer emblazoned with the obvious caption: I love to dance!  KORI means Cowrie so perhaps this was an affirmation of our presence in the Motherland.
Knowing that I had only a short time with Lydia and Stephanie, we decided to dump our stuff in the nearby cheap but clean hotel (with working ceiling fans:
thank the almighty)! Then to sit under the quickly darkening African sky and press on with the evaluation. That as far as I knew was my sole purpose on this
journey: to evaluate the experience of the mentors and the leaders, concerning their work and experiences in Tanzania. Hmm! I was far off the mark! More of that soon.
I devised an evaluation format based on a Nigerian wisdom story. It was divided into useful sections that provided ‘signposts’ to make reflection easy and a story format to inspire  memory and possibly more intuitive responses. The
evaluation as I explained to the young ladies was for our report, but more importantly it was for their own understanding. Often people  engage in
potentially life changing experiences, but they lose the learning because they don’t work out what is important to them within it all. I hoped to eliminate
that process of experience leakage… Did it work? You’ll have to ask
the Mentors!'”
After a (short)! sleep I said goodbye to Steph’ and Lyd’ and started the next leg of my journey, by bus to Arusha in the north of Tanzania. Bus journeys can
be dire but the welcoming protectiveness of the driver and the assistant made mine pleasant… all ten hours of it! Ten leg stiffening hours of thatched hut watching, cook fire smelling, street pedlars (narrowly avoiding death by bus
tyre), Masai  thronging (what is this western fascination with this tribe anyway)? Above all else though, the landscape inspired and almost prayerful
awe. Stunning? beautiful? breathtaking? Small words that cannot capture even a
fraction of the magnificent cloud kissing hump backed undulating progress of the road to Arusha. Never have I been so completely encompassed by mountains and or so many miles.
Eventually, travel worn and artistically inspired, I arrived in the busy town of
Arusha at about 4.40pm.  After a very happy meeting with Odiri she  (somewhat
gleefully) informed me of the following
“you’re teaching a KaZimba class to 200 students at 6.30 tomorrow morning!
And you’re going to story-tell and coach a class to perform the story you tell them in 3 days!”
Yikes! What could I do? ‘Falling into deepwater learning’ is what we do to the mentors so how could I balk from a taste of our own medicine?!? Besides Odiri got up and trained with us too, plus she also had the same story telling task with a different class.
St Jude’s school in Arusha was a truly blessed encounter with the humble and yet indomitable spirit of African children. They were magnificent and so committed
to learning (they practiced at home and in school breaks)  that all had to work hard to remain one step ahead of them in terms of teaching! Some of them take Fourteen(!) subjects and because they are boarders, school from 8.30 til 6pm
every day. And yet they still practiced what we were teaching them! Just like London children (yeah right!!!)
The teachers watched and seemed impressed / inspired. We put our hearts and
souls joyfully into bringing the best out of the children and they exceeded even our very high expectations. Their performances were rich with nuance and a
sublime testimony to their deep talent… wow! What a rewarding experience… There is nothing like having to think on your feet to get the juices flowing.

The theme of this exchange is "We are present"

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