teaching, learning and living around the world
On September 6th, we were informed at school that we should help the students prepare a play for World Peace Day. Our first reaction was… prepare a PLAY?! Peace day was only two weeks away!! But we decided we could do it, and began preparing immediately.
We were informed that our theme for the play should be, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” My initial reaction was- what the HECK?! That doesn’t sound very peaceful!! Although I tried, I was unsuccessful at communicating the idea that we should change it to something more like, “If you want peace, you need to be peaceful!” So for two weeks we practiced a skit that went something like this:
A mother passionately tells her children about all of the suffering in Congo. She says that there is so much war, so much violence, and very little food. The kids then whine in unison, “Mama njaaaala, mama njaaaaaala!” (Mom I’m HUNGRY!) So mom goes off on a journey to find food for her hungry children. During her travels she runs into a man called Baba, and again passionately explains that her children are hungry, and how there is so much violence in war in Congo. She asks the man- how will we ever get peace in Congo? The man answers fiercely- if we want peace, we must prepare for war. We have to fight for peace in Congo. The mom says that she just wants to feed her kids. So she buys some food and returns home to feed them.
Meanwhile, Baba runs into a handicapped lady. Baba tells the lady- hey, you need a gun! We need to fight for peace in Congo! The handicapped lady says- no way, that’s how I became handicapped- from the war! But Baba finally convinces her to take a gun.
Suddenly, a group of soldiers burst in SHOOTING their guns. (The kids hold up their crutches like guns and making shooting sounds.) The children scream and yell and hide while the soldiers keep shooting.
Then comes my big debut. I enter as the boss, blow a whistle three times to stop the shooting, and ask angrily, “Muko munafanya NINI?!” (What are you all DOING?!) Their response is, “We’re fighting for peace in Congo.” Then I ask them, but why are you fighting and causing war?” One soldier then goes on a long tangent, explaining how if we want peace, we must fight. His monologue segways into a song, which at first I thought sounded lovely until I realized that the chorus goes something like, “The day I die, I hope I’ll see….” And then they list off the names of all the dignitaries that planned to attend our World Peace Day Celebration.
The night of September 20th I felt so nervous! No one had seen our skit yet and I was so worried because I still felt like it was sending a bad message. I was worried that we might embarrass our organization in front of the whole community! When I arrived at school on September 21st (official World Peace Day) I was immediately informed by the kids that we were NOT doing our skit today! I was unaware that Congolese time was not just for hours, but also for whole weeks.
It was postponed until Saturday.
Then until Tuesday.
Then finally, for sure, seriously, we were scheduled to celebrate on Thursday, September 30th at 9:00 am. In Congolese time, 9 am really means 11. So around 11:30 it was finally our turn to perform.
A day before the actual performance someone from the media office came and observed all of our hard work. He then promptly informed us that we needed to change the ending of the skit because it was bad that we were advocating for violence.
Then came my first true moment of brilliance, and I successfully communicated an idea in Swahili that ended up being liked and incorporated into the skit. I suggested that before we bust into “The day I die” song, the soldiers need to be convinced to throw away their guns. I was in total shock that I had actually communicated something in Swahili that I felt was important! The kids totally ran with it and changed the ending so that the handicapped person ends up convincing Baba and all the soldiers to end the violence and stop the war. If we want peace, he says, we need food and medicine- not anymore fighting.
The moment of truth finally came, and everyone loved our skit. The kids spoke loudly, clearly, and passionately. The monologue at the end, about ENDING the war, and getting RID of guns was so powerful that the audience full of grown ups started CHEERING!
The rest of the day we received so many encouraging compliments. People were impressed with the kids and said many times that we must be doing something right at the school. Afterwards we celebrated with Coke, peanuts and cheese. It was a VERY happy day.