Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page
Sunday, day 75 (Boxing Day)
Lospalos has a much-loved community of nuns living in its midst. Known by the initials ADM, it is an Indonesian Catholic order that provides a home for young people from the villages who are in Lospalos in rder to attend school. It also runs residential vocational training for twenty young women who have had to leave school early, for numerous reasons. In amongst all of this good work, the sisters have a well-established garden that includes many medicinal plants. They make some natural remedies, one of which was given to my mother while she was visiting, when she had a nasty bite (or what looked like a bite) on her arm.
I first met the sisters and their volunteer helper Brigitte (from Germany) by chance. We were in Com at the beach, and got chatting to the sisters while chilling out beside the water. Later that afternoon our car broke down on the raod home. A replacement car needed to be sent from Dili, our driver needed to wait for it, and my friends and I decided to see if we could flag down a ride home. It was the nuns and their party of young people who stopped for us. That’s how we got talking about why I was in Lospalos, and of course once we realised the similarity of our missions, I offered to come and do a workshop with their young students and the neighbouring children.
On Sunday Tony and I went to ADM to lead that workshop. We weren’t sure who we would be working with. We understood there was still a small group of teenagers living at the residence – many others had already gone home for the holidays. But Sunday afternoons are well-established among the local children as a time when activities are on offer, so there was a chance that some of those youngsters would also come along.
We took some of our favourite instruments with us – the black buckets to use as drums, and the pieces of bamboo we’d cut the other day. In order to draw the youngsters before us I played a bit of clarinet on the verandah outside the workshop room. This caught their curiosity, and eventually drew them inside, and into a circle. We started our workshop with about 15 participants – a mix of children and teenagers – but it soon swelled to about 45, including several of the sisters. We began with a song – Mobako meeno fway, from Africa – which is now established as a firm favourite for me, as it has been such an engaging, well-received song in all my workshops here in Timor. It has a simple dance step that goes with the chorus, and the movement always inspires lots of giggles and gets people relaxed and less inhibited.
Then I tried passing a clap around the circle. By now our group numbers were starting to swell, and people were joining in with this game cold. It therefore took awhile to establish, but I explained in Tetun the importance of eye contact, and it was wonderful see little children who had at first been quite unsure what they were supposed to do, start to figure it out with each successive round of the circle. We built up speed and changed direction, but I didn’t add any further layers to this game.
From here we did some call-and-response rhythms. I clapped and tapped rhythms on different parts of my body for them to echo. I tried to use a big variety of sounds – they particularly enjoyed the hollowed-cheek taps.
From here, I established two separate rhythms and divided the circle into two groups. I did this without any words at first, but in the end needed to clarify my intentions briefly in Tetun! Two rhythms, one clapped and syncopated, the other stomped and grounded on the beat. We repeated a few times, then switched parts.
Next I introduced a whole-ensemble stop. I showed them the countdown signal I do with my fingers – “1, 2, 3, 4, STOP!” – and we started to do this. This led to a counted-in start cue as well and before long they were creating some very slick starts and stops.
Now it was time to bring out the instruments. We started with drums, sticks and shakers, keeping to the same rhythms, and passing the instruments around the group so that everyone got to play something.
Then we called a short break, where we sent people outside to get a pair of bamboo sticks from Tony. Meanwhile, I got 3 of the older boys to help me arrange all the chairs in a large circle. When everyone came back in, they could select a seat with a bucket or shaker in front of it (organised into sections) or sit with their bamboo sticks in any of the other seats. We found we had more participants than instruments, so invented a new sound from two smooth flat stones being tapped together (these stones were plentiful in the garden immediately in front of the workshop room).
I explained to them that we wanted to create new music, and asked for their ideas for possible rhythms. This kind of question is always risky – there is the possibility that no-one will suggest anything, that they will either feel too shy, or won’t really understand what it is you are asking them to do, or how they should set about doing it. If everyone stays silent for too long, it can result in a tremendous loss of energy among the group. However, you only ever need one suggestion. You can seize upon it enthusiastically, and get the group playing it, and others will start to feel braver, and begin to offer forth their own ideas. So I always feel it is worth the risk, even if it is easier to just teach everyone rhythms that you make up yourself.
We did indeed get one suggestion – from one of the bucket players. We established it with the pulse and got the whole bucket section playing it in unison.
“There’s a bamboo player over here who’s come up with something,” Tony announced, gesturing towards a young girl sitting with her legs dangling from the chair, not reaching the floor. I crouched in front of her.
“Can you show me?” I asked her in Tetun encouragingly. At first I thought she was going to refuse, but then, without making eye contact, she began to tap out her idea. It fitted beautifully with the bucket rhythm and we taught it to all the other bamboo players in her section.
Things progressed quickly from this point. Soon we had a rhythmic groove happening with 4 different parts to it. We jammed on this for awhile, Tony and I playing clarinet and saxophone respectively, and adding pitch to some of the rhythms.
Next we decided to write a song, a short song that we could include as part of this piece we were creating. Again, I explained our intention in Tetun, as best I could:
“We want to write a song with you, a song that you can help us write. We want to learn new things in Timor Leste, so we are interested in your ideas. First let’s decide what our song should be about. What do you want to write a song about?”
“Timor-Leste!” someone suggested (I think it was one of the sisters).
“Diak los!” I enthused, and wrote ‘Timor Leste’ as a heading on a big sheet of paper.
“What can we say about Timor Leste? Its history? The land and environment? Things that are special to here?”
Everyone thought hard. Then one of the boys suggested,
“Rai Timor Lorosae”.
Delighted to have our first lyrics offered so freely, I wrote them down straight away. The boy continued:
“Rai ida bee hau moris….. hau hodomi deit… ho mesak doben… Rai Timor Lorosae”
I wrote them all down, then held up the page so that everyone could see. Tony strummed a pair of chords, one after the other.
The sister sitting beside me murmured to me, “Mana, will you now teach us the melody to this song?”
“Well,” I answered, in Tetun so that everyone could hear. “We are going to make the melody now, all together. I want this to be a song that everyone has helped to write. What we will do is, read the words together, but say them with a rhythm. And gradually, a melody will start to emerge.” (Actually, I didn’t say emerge – I don’t know that word. I said things like arrive or enter, and hoped that I was making enough sense. People kept nodding and smiling at me, so that was encouraging).
We read the words several times, accompanied by Tony on guitar. In truth, no melody emerged. So again, I spoke.
“Does anyone have an idea for a melody?” No-one spoke. I paused.
“Every time I sing by myself, I feel shy – really! It is difficult to sing by yourself. You need to have courage! But, it is the only way that we can share ideas with other people. When we share our ideas, we can inspire others too. So this time, Maun Tony will play, but I want everyone to sing the words together. We won’t be singing the same melody, but that’s okay. I will listen carefully and find the melody that you sing.”
I find this is a very successful approach for me, but whenever I introduce it to a group, I know they feel doubtful. The important thing is to try it straight away. So I cued Tony, and asked him to play “Very strongly!” to give us courage.
Finally, a melody of our own began to emerge. I played it on the clarinet line by line to clarify it (and also to memorise it for myself). Then we sang it several times in a row, to lock the phrasing and pitches into everyone’s memories.
And so we reached the final part of our workshop. We structured the music so that we went from playing the rhythms to singing the song, back to playing the rhythms, back to the song – in a ‘looped’ binary form, essentially. We added some expressive dynamics, building up to a bar of suspension and silence, and used our by now well-established whole-ensemble stopping and starting skills to great effect. We filmed the final performance of the full piece.
We ended the workshop back in a circle, with the song Mo bako meeno fway. The sisters loved it, and made me repeat several times more than I’d planned! Later, one of them said, “When you come back, please bring us more songs from Africa! They have such great rhythm and energy – like the songs from Papua!” I promised I would bring more. Certainly, after a such a warm reception from the sisters, ADM is a place I definitely plan to bring more workshops.
Post-script: Further to my ongoing Timor theme of Things never being quite what they seem, I learned at the end of this workshop that the words offered up for our song actually already exist as a different song. No wonder they were created so swiftly and painlessly by their volunteer! No wonder this group of Fataluku-speaking, barely-at-school children learned them so quickly! Oh well… it wasn’t quite what I’d intended but it was a catchy song just the same.
Friday, day 72 (Christmas Eve day)
We got up early today (well, early for us) and started the morning by washing all our clothes and getting them on the line to take advantage of what looked like being a sunny day with a brisk breeze – a good day for drying things.
Then Paiamoe (Nina, our helper – but she prefers to be called Paia or Paiamoe, her ‘culture name’ so that is what I’ll call her from now on) arrived with a young girl who is her cousin and our neighbour. Yesterday I’d asked Paia if she knew where we could find some bamboo to use for instrument-making, and this morning she came to our house to tell us that her cousin, our neighbour, had some bamboo growing on her property that we could check out.
We trekked into the overgrown garden, past the rootling pigs in the mud who always make me chuckle, and came upon a thick clump of very tall bamboo. We chose a long stem, paid the mother $3 for it, and then she and Tony hacked into it with a saw and a machete, and chopped it down.
Tony then chopped it further into smaller pieces and all the children helped us carry the pieces back to our verandah next door.
And thus began the third jam – an impromptu experimentation with the new bits of bamboo, some blown, some struck, and some proving to have two pitches and the possibility of being held in suspension.
“Maybe we can make our own version of the kakalo’uta,” I said to Paia, only half-facetiously.
“Why not?” she agreed immediately.
Other children heard us playing and ran up the drive to join in. We spent about an hour and a half making music with these bamboo sticks, and only stopped when it was time for lunch.
So it feels like, despite the earlier stumbling blocks, things are progressing quite well here in Lospalos. We’ve established a music-making tradition at our house, we have a workshop planned for the young people up at the nuns’ house, scheduled for Sunday afternoon, and we are still to wander back to the house of the children we played marbles with a few days ago – we figure there is the potential for another workshop group in that part of town. Three groups – that’s heaps more than we thought we had at the start of the week when we met with Senor Abilio.
Friday, day 72
The jamming on the verandah has continued. Yesterday, around 3.40pm, kids started to gather in the street in front of the house, waiting for Tony and me to wave them in. We assembled on the floor and on the chairs, and focused our attention on drumming (using buckets). One had cracked the day before, due to being hit with sticks so today we encouraged them to hit the drums with their hands only.
We are working in these jams completely without a translator. Little by little, I find the kids are getting used to the way I use Tetun (it’s obviously a bit irregular for them) and understand the way we are setting things up musically. We do a lot of copying, and call-and-response patterns. I’ve also introduced the idea of ‘question’ and ‘answer’ this week.
Because we started a bit earlier, the girls came along (they have to go to choir practice around 4.30pm). Girls encourage a more thoughtful style of playing, we find! When the group is all boys, things tend to descend more quickly into the ‘bash the crap out out of it and then each other’ school of playing.
Yesterday we started with rhythms. Tony revisited some of the ideas that had worked well in Baucau – a rock-based ‘echo’ rhythm in 4/4 which we performed in 2 groups, and then a unison rhythm. I grabbed some paper and created a graphic score using coloured-in boxes to show the beats and the rests, and also introduced the idea of singing the rhythms using ta, ti-ti and sah.
We practised progressing from one rhythm to the next, after 8 repetitions. As in any group, some kids got the gist of what we were aiming for right away, others never really caught on, but played along just the same.
Then I introduced a song in English that was composed a few years back by some of my students at the English Language School in Melbourne. It’s a song in the pentatonic scale that I really like – I’ve used it for MSO Jams as well, and taught it lots of different classes. Because it was written by newcomers to English, the words aren’t too difficult, and they reflect the kind of lyrics you hear in pop songs:
So-so feeling, I’ll be happy
I don’t care
When I’m with you, baby, darling
Love, love you.
So we learned those words together, and I gave them a rough translation in Tetun.
Then we began to piece those three sections (the two rhythms, and the song) together, giving a big cue when it was time to switch to the next section.
We finished up with a quick jam on the song I taught in Baucau, Mo bako mino fway, and then everyone helped us pack up the instruments, waved good-bye and headed home.
I’ve been collecting photos of rainy days for a while now. The images below are from the Cultural Festival in Dili back at the end of November. It got rained out big time – apparently it took a week for the flood waters around the President’s Palace to subside. The drains get clogged up with rubbish so the water has nowhere to go.
And this photo was taken in Lospalos, or just outside Lospalos, on the road to the lake in the National Park. We were in a 4wd but no-one was sure how flooded the road was. Maleve walked on ahead of the car, to see how far up his legs the water went. In the end, it was too deep (too much rainfall had flooded over the causeway) so our intrepid driver did a u-turn on the narrow causeway and took us back out again. I took this photo from the back window.
I’m happy to report I’ve finally been able to add photos to my post Book-making on the verandah. Please re-visit that page and see the lovely images of the children so engrossed in their creative work.
This afternoon we gathered a group of local youngsters n the verandah of the Lospalos house for a jam. We were lucky to have the help of Kamil (a recent visitor and commenter on this blog – in fact, that is how he tracked me down) who speaks Indonesian and was able to leave the verandah to go and invite those young people whose attention we had caught to come and join us. Having a common language is a wonderful gift in recruiting new participants!
We jammed on three different musical ideas (Yill lull by Joe Geia, a melody made up by one of the participants, and the Fataluku song that I learned from the women’s choir in Baucau), using the Optimum Percussion chime bars, the upturned buckets as drums, and some shakers made from plastic bottles and empty Pringles containers, with rice in them).
Wednesday, day 70
Tony and I are settling in to a nice routine – similar to the one I had in Dili, way back when I first arrived in Timor – of playing music on the verandah as the world passes us by. Tony is an enthusiastic waver, and not a person goes by who doesn’t get a special wave from him. Today I got out the saxophone, and we improvised in 5/8, me on the sax, Tony playing his current favourite drum (a plastic filtered-water gallon). The sax proved to be a far more effective ‘caller’ than the clarinet, and lots of people paused in front of our house before walking on. We invited some of them to join us, and are hoping that tomorrow afternoon at the same time some of them will return for more of a jam.
We’ve also been inviting the landlord’s children to join us playing music on the balcony. We play the Optimum Percussion chime bars, the bunch of buckets that Tony and I bought in Baucau to be drums, the water gallon, and the saxophones.
All of these impromptu jams with local children are about creating a presence, and hopefully gradually building a core group of young people who’d like to play with us and create some music together after Christmas. Similarly, we’ve been wandering the streets and just starting conversations with local children. Today we greeted a group of children playing together in front of their house.
“How are you going? I called.
“Good,” they replied enthusiastically.
“What are you playing?” I asked.
“We’re playing berlindos,” they told me, which clearly meant marbles and stepped forward to show us the marbles they had.
“Can we watch?” we asked, and of course they were happy to demonstrate their game to us.
“Can I join in?” Tony asked after a while, and they gave him a marble to get started. He did well – he won a few penalty shots (if that’s what you call them) and ended up being one of the last two players. He didn’t win though, which I think was very gracious of him.
So, we wander the streets, chatting to people, and mentally building a map of where different friendly, engaged children are to be found.
Before coming here, one of the things that people described to me was the way that there was nothing in particular for the children to do. Nothing in particular that is designed to stimulate them or help them develop to their full capacities.
However, one thing that strikes me here is how happy, active and functional all the children are. They are always playing and inventing. Many children are working during the day too, helping with household chores. For example, from our verandah we have been watching the family over the road gradually move a pile of dirt from the road into the garden. The children work in small teams with spades and barrows, and gradually have shifted that pile of dirt, one spadeful at a time. Whole families hang out together, adults and children sitting and chatting.
We see the children inventing games – they play all the usual games that children all around the world play, such as tag, or clapping games. Kids here are often fond of having a toy car attached to a string that they pull around after them. In Baucau, the local kids played with old tyres, running them up and down the hill getting them to turn by hitting them with a stick.
There is no electricity in Lospalos during the day – it only comes on at night-time. So children are outside during the day. They entertain themselves, and take responsibility for household chores when required, and I rarely see them not getting along, or creating problems. There is something to be said for giving them authentic tasks to do some of the time (with the help of more knowledgeable others) and the rest of the time letting them just play and invent, unhindered by powered technology. Vygotsky would certainly agree.
Wednesday, day 70
I am now getting used to the small stumbling blocks that my project and best-laid plans come up against on a regular basis. The first of the week was on Monday, when we went to meet with a local representative of the Ministry of Culture who, the first time I met him, smiled constantly and happily agreed to work with us in creating a music project for children here. He would gather the children for us, make the Ministry of Culture workshop venue available to us, and yes, he was even happy for me to participate in his traditional music group that meets three times a week, to indulge my interest in Timorese traditional music. The second time we met with him, he told m sadly that I would need to write a letter of permission to his boss if I wanted to learn any Timorese traditional music. I did this, and I know that he got a reply from his boss giving him the go-ahead. When I met with him this week, he told me I couldn’t learn any traditional music because I wasn’t here for long enough, and it wasn’t worth it. And he didn’t think he could gather any children because, didn’t I know it was school holidays? (a fact which he’d thought would make it easier to gather them, the first time we met). Lastly, he didn’t think we could use his venue. Well, we could, but we’d have to pay for it. “But Senor,” said N, the person assisting us. “You have already promised Mana Gillian she can use the venue at no cost!” Ah yes, well, that was then. The situation is different now.
At that stage, there seemed little point in continuing. In anyone’s culture, this person had zero interest in seeing this project come together through any help of his.
“Don’t worry,” N reassured us as we walked away, incredulous. “He is not the only culture person in Lospalos. We can talk to other people about all these things.”
“He’s just a public servant,” said Tony. “He doesn’t want to do anything more than he needs to do. It’s the week before Christmas, he gets paid regardless, there’s nothing in it for him, he just wants a quiet week sitting behind his desk, looking important.”
The second stumbling block came in the form of a text message for me first thing this morning from the woman who has had the role of assisting me in this project from the beginning. She was invaluable in Baucau, translating, kid-wrangling, keeping everything running smoothly, and having umpteen ideas about how she’d like to do it differently in Lospalos in January. Her text message today told me that she would no longer be working with me because she has taken a job somewhere else. But not to worry, because she has replaced me with her sister, who speaks English “even better than me” and who is “just the same as me”. She just hasn’t got the benefit of all those earlier experiences. I’m not saying the swap won’t work out – it may. But it is certainly quite a surprise.
My third stumbling block has been developing an unexpected allergy to fish. This came up last week, and I thought it was part of the Chikungunya virus symptoms. But when I ate fish from a stall on the way to Lospalos from Dili last Friday, I came out in a horrible rash (worse than the Chikungunya rash of the week before), all over my limbs, and accompanied by itchy, swollen hands and feet. It’s taken all the protein out of my diet – I was eating fish nearly every day here before this allergy decided to emerge! So today I asked Valda if she could find me a chicken. “Sure,” she said. “You can buy a chicken.” (There are certainly plenty running around). “But do you know how to prepare it?” I asked her. (Because I certainly don’t!) She just laughed reassuringly. Sure enough, she came home this afternoon carrying a chicken, still alive. But not for long. We had barbecued chicken for dinner, rubbed in a marinade made with onions, fresh turmeric, ginger, and limes. I’m happy to have had a protein hit in my diet tonight. Apologies to all the vegetarians who would prefer I stay on my music education topic.
Wednesday, day 62
The last few days have passed by in a bit of a blur, partly because of the workshop whirl one gets into in the middle of a project, and partly because by Sunday I was struck down by a mosquito-borne tropical illness known as Chikungunya. I think it started on Saturday with an ache in my knee that I assumed was due to over-exerting myself in the warm-up games that morning, but in hindsight I now suspect otherwise.
Chikungunya Virus is one of the more exotic diseases I’ve ever had (and I’ve been hospitalised for quinsy, which I’ve always considered exotic for its Victorian quaintness even though it is a horrible thing to be sick with…). But it’s no fun. It starts with a gradually growing stiffness in your joints. For me, this started in my right knee, moved across to my left middle finger, my right index finger, my right 2nd and 3rd toes, my left heel and Achilles, and so on and so on in a strange, random pinball kind of pattern up, down and across my body until it was in my wrists, elbows, shoulders, back, neck and jaw. Sunday afternoon while eating my lunch I noticed a rash on my arms. A couple of hours later this was spreading to my legs. By the time I got the hospital Sunday evening (requesting a blood test that they didn’t have the equipment to do, it turned out) it was all over me. We wish we’d taken a photo of it as it was quite impressively comprehensive, and it disappeared just as quickly by the following morning.
I then developed a burning fever and lost most of my mobility. I could barely walk. It felt like I had the legs of a newborn foal that wouldn’t possibly bear my weight if I were to try to stand on my own. Tony or Mana Er tended to rush to my side whenever I needed to move somewhere. To sit down or stand up, I needed to use my arms, but given that my fingers and wrists were also causing me a lot of pain, I tended to have lean all my weight into my elbows. It was ungraceful, to say the least!
At that stage it looked like it could be dengue, but the only way to diagnose dengue is with a blood test, and I learned that Monday in Baucau that in all the hospitals across Timor, the equipment necessary to test blood for dengue was out of action. The only way to get a blood test was in Dili at a private pathology clinic.
We found a way to get Tony and me in a car to Dili that evening (Baucau is 3-4 hours from Dili by car). Tony packed up all our things, while I sweated it out on the bed, groaning away everytime I tried to shift my weight a little. Oh I was not a happy camper!
Tuesday we made our way to the private pathology clinic in Santa Cruz area. Does ‘private pathology clinic’ conjure images of white lab coats to you? It did for me, but this little clinic, in what seemed like a the front room of a standard private residence, off an unsealed road with wide concrete drains to step over on either side, wasn’t quite what I’d imagined, but it had everything a private pathology clinic needed to take a blood sample and test it. Lots of new sterile syringes in their packets, lots of little tubes waiting to receive blood for analysis, sticky labels for noting name of patients and the tests to be done (in my case a full blood count and a dengue fever test), and a pathologist (dressed not a white lab coat but in a blue t-shirt and a pair of jeans). He knew to expect me, and spoke to me with the low quiet voice that TImorese people tend to use when they want to speak very respectfully to someone, but that is very difficult for a newcomer like me to understand. Still, we both knew enough about what this encounter was expected to yield to get through any misunderstandings generated by language, and in just over an hour I was on my way to the Australian Embassy Medical Clinic, brandishing an envelope with my test results in it, ready for the doctor’s assessment.
Around this time Tony and I realised that my fever had almost completely subsided. I was also walking a lot better – still lurching and staggering around and losing my balance as a result of my stiff ankles and tender Achilles, but at least I was doing so without any assistance from Tony now.
And so we came to the likely diagnosis of Chikungunya Virus (or Disease, as some websites like to call it), carried around and spread stealthily by annoying little creatures called mosquitos. I’ve been steadily improving since Tuesday and hope to get back to Lospalos on Friday. This descriptive post is a bit of a departure from music education and collaborative practice, but how many people do you know, or read about, who have been struck down by Chikungunya? Here’s hoping I stay on track for a full and fast recovery!