Most productive day of the residency so far!
Lospalos, day 94
Yesterday (Saturday) was probably the most productive day of the residency! Earlier in the week, some of the students we’d befriended in the English classes dropped by our house just to hang out and chat. We showed them the kakalo that our neighbour had made for us the previous weekend. “Oh yes, we know this instrument,” they told us. “Do you know how to make it?” Tony asked them. “Yes, we do,” they replied.
So we cooked up a plan for a Saturday Working Bee, focused on making instruments.
That morning, the three boys came to our house after they’d finished morning school. We went to visit our neighbour to tell him of our plan, and to see if he’d like to join us for any or part of the day. He was immediately interested. He came around to see the pieces of bamboo we’d been given from the nuns at ADM, and told us we still needed a much narrower piece if we wanted to make bamboo flutes. Then he went home and found a long piece with the right diameter for us, which we bought for $2 (it turned out it was his fishing rod, but he knew where he could get another rod-lengthed piece of bamboo so was happy to sell it to us). Before he left, he lent us some of his tools.
Tony and the boys got to work sawing the thick lengths of bamboo into shorter pieces for kakalos. I’d been called down the street to collect something from a friend. I was only gone 20 minutes, but by the time I’d returned there was a group of about 25 kids on the verandah. Some were working on the instrument making, but others were just hanging out, looking for things to play.
“Maybe go down on the grass,” Tony suggested to me. We took our set of three mats down to the recently-mown grass and got everyone to sit down. We had pieces of bamboo clapping sticks, plastic bottles pumped with air and turned into bells, upturned buckets to play as drums, chime bars (one per child) and short plastic bottles and storage containers filled with rice to use as shakers. More children kept arriving – at one point we had well over 40, many of whom I’d never seen before, and lots of girls. I taught them to sing Ah Ya Zahn, a song from Lebanon with a rhythmic response in the chorus. We spliced this with different rhythmic patterns, once for each group of instruments.
In this group it was gratifying to see that those children who’d been coming to our house regularly for verandah jams (many of them “naughty boys”, as Oswalda tended to refer to them) were the ones who helped hold the ensemble together. They knew all about looking for cues, and stopping on the stop signal, being ready for sections to change, and sticking to the pulse rather than speeding up or slowing down. I was proud of them! They were the leaders among this group of new kids.
The group itself had a chaotic feeling – often, standing in front of it, it was hard to see who was actually listening to what I said! But they must all have been listening, because they learned the rhythmic response in the chorus (which is irregular so needs to be memorised) incredibly quickly, and similarly the Arabic words of the song.
Eventually some mothers arrived to take their children home to lunch (we realised they’d stopped at our place on their way home from school), so our group numbers reduced and we eventually stopped. Some boys continued to hang around (I don’t think they had lunch to go home to, on reflection), so we brought out some bananas, then told them we needed to have a rest, and that they could come back in the afternoon to play some more music.
By the end of that afternoon we had made 8 kakalos, with a set of neatly-smoothed bamboo sticks to play them with. Tony had also started experimenting with some bamboo flute designs, finding a way to bore holds into the bamboo tunes, and to create a more user-friendly mouthpiece.
Also that afternoon we began to sing through the Fataluku version of Forever Young, one of Timor’s current summer radio anthems, and a much-loved song among the teenage population of Lospalos. Valda invited some friends over, and the three working bee boys also stayed. We tested out the multi-syllabic Fataluku words, figuring out how to make them fit with the melody of the song.
The afternoon also included an excursion to a nearby pond system, where apparently many crocodiles lived. They weren’t revealing themselves that day though.
In the evening, we welcomed the ANAM students and the Many Hands directors to our house. Valda cooked up a storm for everyone, and then we jammed into the evening. Lina and Tony did some improvised flute duets, Doug played guitar, all of us played the kakalos, working with the cele cuku rhythms, and Lina taught everyone Macedonian folk dancing.
So it was a late night for Lospalos (hitting the beds by about 11pm), but definitely the most productive day of the residence. We were well due our rest by then.