I wanted kicks, and I was not disappointed.
First of all, let me go ahead and admit that every day that I have spent in the Western Cape has been akin to a goofy, feel good, B Christian movie. When we pulled up to the after school facility (which doubles as a church/community center/anything you want it to be), about 60 kids were milling around at the entrance with a red haired, rosy cheeked White woman sitting among them. When the engine of our car quieted down I heard her yell “Okay! Okay! They’re here!”
All the children then said in unison “Yes we can! Yes we can! Yes we can!”
Search me to find out what they were self-affirming to, but I nodded and smirked with as much benevolence as I could muster. This felt so weird.
“Yes, Marshall, apparently they can,” I whispered.
“Yup. They sure can…”
There were some other visitors assembled there; a motley crew of Caucasians from Australia, England, Holland and the off white South African. A bubbly blond called Henneke had got the kids painting “their dreams” on some card board and a silver haired guy was shooting their activity. She works with high profile local artists in impoverished nations all over the world, and gets them to incorporate the children’s art into their work. Whenever a painting sells (and usually in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range) part of the money is redirected back to the town where the kids are from to make their dreams a reality. Most of the kids had painted a big fancy house as their dream. One had painted a church. No one had drawn a new school. Kids are the same everywhere I guess.
I don’t truly possess the gift of gab, so when I am thrust into awkward situations like this, I make myself look busy by busying myself with the kids. Unfortunately for me, they ran off at the first sight of their numerous age mates, and I was left defenseless. However, because we were abysmally late, we were ushered into to the church/community center/theater and aggressively instructed to sit on the first row. Plastic lawn chairs – the kind that I only ever seem to come across in Africa – were assembled in the middle of the room. The “stage” was directly in front of us.
It’s funny, but children everywhere all have the same theatrical aptitude; meaning they all shriek their performance. After the 4 to 6 year olds “treated” to us a heartwarming song with a repeated refrain of click click tschlick, the older girls did a traditional dance that would have put the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders and Marquita the club freak to shame. I never saw such high kicks! And the one of the traditional dances had the girls freaking and gyrating so hard that I thought they would break their bony little waists. Fortunately, the only mishap came in the form of a wardrobe malfunction where one of the flat-chested prepubescent’s lost her tie around top. (Pictures to come shortly) I tried to appear unflinching and composed as 2 of the girls came dangerously close to giving me a toe jam sandwich as they threw their bony little feet above their shoulders.
The boys did the boot dance that originated in the mines. This sent an immeasurable amount of dust into the air, into my eyes and into my nostrils. Once the traditional dancing was done, all the performers convened to do some street dancing with yet more freaking and shaking. Two boys stole the show with their “township Crip walk”. One of the invited guests in the motley White crew was a woman with an Aussie/South African accent that reeked of money. She clapped her hands enthusiastically. Her turquoise Yves St. Laurent sweater sat unnaturally in place, unmoving even though the rest of her was moving vigorously.
The show closed with a medley of What a Friend we have in Jesus and 3 or 4 other standard hymns, with Laura strumming along on her guitar. Then it was over.
“Thank you all for coming,” said Laura, the red head who runs the operation. “It’s not often the kids get to perform for an audience. They don’t get to show off what they’ve practiced very often, so it was good of you all to come.”
The kids got off stage and we were left to our own devices. There was no finesse in the finale. It was like I had been dropped in Baghdad with nothing but a butter knife and a bottle of water. I felt so used…so very used.
They usually ask the VIPs (meaning me) to give some sort of speech at these things don’t they? I mean, not that I would have given one, but it would have been nice to ask – so that I could then refuse.
Over all, it was a really good performance and I was by all accounts still a stranger, so I meekly gathered my dusty children and went home.