Kavre District_ Karuna Foundation
And she sits on her bed And he sits on his bed
looking out the window looking out the window
dreaming of that place dreaming of that city
the few lights the lights behind
scattered in the hills the stories behind
like irritated fireflies these thousand windows
and that different oh so different life and that different oh so different life
listening to her favourite band on her laptop Bollywood Stars on his wall
her hair is still wet from the shower next to Lord Buddha and a Puja Shrine
the smell of coconut and summers
while outside the lazy carpet of sounds while outside the moon
is sometimes interrupted by is shining on ricefields and silence
a straydog barking or a single horn covers this place where there is
no electricity no newspaper
just the occasional fart of a goat
and the music in the dance bar and the voices in the teakitchen nearby
nearby is getting louder. are turning silent as the villagers just put
down the madal and finished
today´s last dohori.
Samu Daik Swostchä Bima
My first street drama tour with Sarwanam in Kavre District
The rehearsals for the street drama for Karuna Foundation had already begun in the end of November. The Sarwanam members had presented the script they had written all by themselves to some representatives of Karuna Foundation. This play was designed to inform the villagers about a new concept of community health insurance. Now this might sound a bit like a dry and maybe boring topic for drama. But it isn´t.
The Sarwanam members know how to transform information into stories, how to create characters that are authentic and also entertaining. So this time they invented the following plot:
Content of the play
in the beginning some villagers discuss about the health insurance. One of them is strictly against it! He names all possible arguments, like it is a waste of money, if you are healthy you pay for nothing and so on and so forth. In the next scene a limping girl enters the stage, she is very excited, out of breath she informs the first villager (who spoke out against the insurance) that his son fell off a tree and suffers pain.
All villagers hurry to see him, he is carried on stage on a friend´s back and weeps and cries. His father is about to start scolding him, when he realizes that he already suffers enough. He needs medical treatment. So much is clear. Now his father doesn´t have enough money for a doctor and asks other villagers to lent him some money. They also don´t have money, refuse and send him to the next one who sends him to the next one who finally sends him to the village´s head.
The village´s patron is busy with smoking a waterpipe and giving instructions to his servant. When the first villager arrives he listens to him and finally agrees on lenting him the money. But with an interest.
Meanwhile in the village, two women gather at the tab and talk about their children. One tells the other that her children just got an injection immunization that was sponsored by the health insurance.
In another place, Rada, the limping girl meets Shyam, the boy who fell of the tree. Now both of them need a stick to walk and this situation causes more understanding within Shyam, who admits to having made fun of Rada before. They talk about her disability and the way she is supported by the insurance. Besides Rada invites Shyam to join an event organized by the community health insurance, where she and some others would give talks about their experiences. Someone announces the event, inviting all inhabitants.
In the end, all villagers gather and listen to Rada and two other ladies promoting the insurance. Then they all sing a song about life, security, true wealth=health and of course, the community insurance.
Karuna Foundation´s programme officer approved the concept of the play and so after some delay, Sarwanam resumed the rehearsals for this play.
By the way, who is I?
I was very happy when Ashesh Sir told me that Sarwanam would go on a three-days tour to Kavre District and that I would be allowed to go with them.
I, as Sarwanam´s new volunteer, had only seen videos of street drama in villages. So of course, I was very curious to experience it in reality. To see the villager´s reaction and to understand myself how street drama can be used not only to entertain, but also to create awareness for certain topics.
Spontaneously I was even asked to act a small part along with the others. Something I had not expected and I felt really excited about.
During the rehearsals before we went to Kavre, nobody was serious. All made jokes about the script, changed their text and fooled around. The village´s head for example said to the first villager after giving him the money: „and take good care you waste the money properly! Buy rakshi and
don´t´spend it on your son´s treatment!“
I was a bit surprised about this attitude. If we behaved like this all the time in Europe in a theatre production, our director would have given us a 30 minute speech about discipline! When we left that morning at around six o´clock, I think we had not staged it properly once. I was confused whether I should feel panic and pessimism or just relax like all others.
On the road
After the 10 of us (Ramhari-Dai, Sushma, Reena, Sabi, Ram, Rajesh, Hemant, Ganeshyam, Rebecca) had put our luggage, costumes, a guitar and a madal in the white jeep sponsored by Karuna Foundation, there was not much of a question left, whether to panic or not 🙂
Ganeshyam played madal or guitar and everyone was singing along, inventing new lyrics, laughing and shouting. I felt like a child going on holidays, curious, excited, heyyyyyyyyyy..we were a group of friends, actors, there were unknown places and audiences waiting for us somewhere!
Above this, I as a foreigner, was so thrilled by Nepal´s beauty, once you leave the valley. First we followed the highway to Dulikhel, before we took a road that led into the hills. We were surrounded by red hills with majestatic rice terraces, dark green vegetation some houses scattered in the landscape, a blue blue sky with small clouds above us. And fresh air.
After two hours we stopped for our first tea break. We stretched, filled our empty stomaches with tea and snacks and looked at the village. There was a beautiful tree in the entrance and a goat with her baby, sucking milk. And good tea.
Now the road got worse. Luckily we were travelling in a jeep. The nature also looked different, the road led through pine forests, passing small Stupas.
We walked the last metres down to the first village where we were going to perform. We came down one hill. We saw the roof of some houses and one school.
Arriving in the first village, the first performance
Arriving in the first village was a strange experience. We were so different. We looked different, we dressed different, us girls we were wearing huge sunglasses, jeans and fancy pink coats, we came from the capitol of the same country, still it was a different world. Most of us had new mobile phones, the boys were wearing blazer and scarfs. In contrast to the villagers we were not wearing traditional clothes and our hair was not dusty. It was strange to keep in mind that some Sarwanam members were also originally from the countryside.
That I looked different from everybody else is quite obvious.
We put our luggage in one room behind the village´s teakitchen where we would eat. We were constantly stared at. We sat on some benches in front of that house. Soon we were circled by a huge number of children who kept a respectful distance of circa one metre and didn´t dare to speak. Then we had Dhal Bhat, of course. It was good.
We took a rest in the room where we had placed our stuff. I was just not sure about our status here. Could we possibly understand the people? How do they see us? Do they think we are arrogant city kids? Passing by to tell them what to do? Enjoying their hospitality, eating their food, staging one play and excluding themselves for the rest of their stay? Or do they like to have guests who are interested in them? Can we get in touch with them? Do we want to? Can we face being stared at all the time and still feel comfortable? Are we introduers, disturbing their privacy, inspecting them?
We changed clothes and wore traditional dresses to get ready for the first performance.
At that moment I truly understood the meaning of one of Ashesh-Sir´s quotations: „Everywhere, there is a stage!“ Next to the village, there was a dip that served as an excellent place to perform. We were in the centre, while the audience could sit on the edge above us, enabling everyone a good view. A natural amphi-theatre.
A circle was drawn to mark the space that was now a stage. Someone started playing madal to draw attention and collect the audience. The ones who arrived first where the children. The adults kept some distance and watched what was going on. Some beatniks of maybe around 20 years came in one group. They resembled more a copy of the city boys.
After chanting aum we started the play with the Sarwanam song „Gumdej, Firdej, Hasdej, Gaundej“. Unluckily I didn´t know about that before, so I just stood next to the stage and watched the others. It seemed as if they were praying. They clearly showed dignity.
We all danced and produced sounds to announce the beginning of the actual play. It started „Bandina, bandina, bandina, bandina, ek bandina, dui bandina, tin bandina!“ Everything went quite fine now. Totally different from the rehearsals. The audience laughed about all the jokes and also when there were no jokes. For example when Ganeshyam was carried on stage, weeping and crying about his hurt leg or even just when two actors came onstage from opposite directions. Some actors also improvised, I realized when some scenes were longer than during the rehearsals.And they used the space, Ramhari-Dai climbed up one hill to shout for Ram who was working in the imaginary fields on the other side. When I, in the blue costume disguised as the tab, entered the stage, some of these cool village guys made stupid comments like: „Oh, doesn´t she speak?haha“ No, I´m a tab. Ever met a speaking tab?, stupid…
We finished the play with the „information event“ about Samu daik swastcha bima and our song.
Subsequently, one Karuna Foundation´s activist gave some talk about the insurance and handed out some sheets with further information. Then the other Sarwanam members started some conversation with the audience about the play. I, however felt to shy to talk. Due to my bad Nepali skills and because I was still thinking about this contradiction, the role conflict between you as an actor on stage who wants to be watched and smiles and gets in contact and you as a private person that maybe feels uncomfortable being looked at…
Anyway, the others had good talks.Sushma spoke to a group of senior men who were quite entuhsiastic about our play and the insurance. Another woman even said she could watch street drama all day long, what a pity it is already over.
If I got it right, that was the first time ever that street drama was shown in that village.
In the afternoon we went for a walk through the village and enjoyed the amazing view and the air. Then I became aware of the difference between an ordinary tourist and a Sarwanam member!
When a regulat traveller discovers a beautiful landscape he will start clicking photos of that landscape from every possible angle.When a Sarwanam member however discovers that scene, he will immediately pass his camera or his mobile to a friend and make him take photos of himself from any angle, pose in all ways, with a scarf flying in the wind, with and without sunglasses, smiling and looking rather tough, single and with one, two or three friends or the whole group:)
An extraordinary Evening
In the evening things changed a lot. All my question about common understanding, my doubts about identity and differences finally found an answer. For the sake of music.
We were sitting in front of our accomodation. Ganeshyam started playing madal. The others sang along. The sun was seting. Slowly the villagers started joining us. After some time, there were even people of them sitting on the wall next to us because all seats were occupied. It seemed as if they all gathered there. And surprisingly, everyone knew the same songs. So despite all these differences I had been thinking about before, there was a link: music. For some hours everybody was singing. Only Ramhari-Dai was sleeping in the room in the back of the house. But some decided that he should not miss this evening. So one put a basket over his head and together with the mischievous others they conquered his resting place. After the first shock, he fortunately, also laughed.
Something new I discovered: Sarwanam members have an excellent humour!
After a while Hemant and Ramhari-Dai danced. What everybody loved the most was singing Dohori. One singer invented lyrics that were then repeated by one group. He was followed by one solo from the other group who directly replied to the first part. Especially Sabi was tireless in inventing new texts.
But what actually happened, the atmosphere of lightheartedness and unity that was created, can´t be described in words anyway. It was magic.
The next morning, the next day
On this day, we were going to leave the first village, take the local bus to the next place where we would perform and walk to our final destination in the evening.
After getting up, we refreshed ourselves. Sabi and me went behind the cowshed. She poured water for me and lented me her face wash. For some time, that is totally fine: to use an improvisational bathroom, consisting of a bit of water and a friend who acts the part of the tab.. Luckily Karuna had brought two big vessles of water, so we didn´t have to ask in the village. It suffered from water shortage anyway.
We had tea again. Then we packed our things and got on the local bus to the next show´s venue..
The ride on the bus was nice. It wasn´t even as packed as the micro busses in Kathmandu from time to time and the landscape was breath-taking. Besides, I felt that the Tamang people living in these hills were very good-natured. They laughed and smiled a lot and never harrased or even aggressively stared at us. I remember one lady with a nose ring who sat in front of us with a chicken on her lap and chatting with a friend.
Sushma and me sometimes exchanged seats to get the best view. Though it was soooo extraordinary beautiful, I was sometimes a bit scared as the hillside was really steep. But after all we reached our destination safely and guess what we did first?!
We had tea.
When I asked Sabi how many cups of tea she usually has, she answered 7 or 8 cups only. An uncle of hers drinks around 28 cups every day…true story.
One day I will also try to do that.
The next stage
The next stage was perfect. It was a large field, shaped like a valley. In the distance you saw few houses. There were trees with red blossoms.
The next performance
After taking a long rest in the school building under the observation of many many kids, standing behind the windows our next performance was about to begin.
This time felt so different because…we were cordially welcomed.
One elderly lady performed Puja. She put Tika on our foreheads and gave us silk scarfes. And we were honoured to meet the local star madal player and jam with him 🙂
On that day, we had some time to get in touch with the audience first, to have something like an emotional warm up-phase. We danced to the madal player´s drumming and waited for more people to arrive. We started singing the Sarwanam song and this time, I could join in, only sometimes confusing the lyrics. The performance continued smoothly. This time I felt such a friendly correlation with the audience, I even dared to speak to some of them after the performance.
I made one interesting observation: even one hour or so after the end of the play, the stage was still a stage. One of the village girls was dancing in the middle, still surrounded by some audience.
There was some lasting impression left.
We spent the rest of the day slowly, playing guitar, chatting, drinking tea, eating chowmein and of course: clicking pictures!
A walk to remember
In the evening we hit the road to reach the last village.
I guess it is true what they say: Nepal is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
The last station
The village where we stayed now was not as remote as the first place. It was located next to the main road. There was a school, a small shop. The houses were illuminated by the light of the setting sun. Many young people were gathering at one table playing…..
We watched the sunset from the opposite hill.
We all stayed in the same house this time. To reach the boy´s room, you had to pass some wooden planks that linked two parts of the building. It was in the first floor, above the kitchen. If you had tumbled, you would have probably fell into the teapot above the fire. The girl´s room was again covered with Rani´s Pryanka´s and Katrina´s pictures on the wall.
One funny incident happened when we girls searched for the toilet (an outhouse) in the darkness. We borrowed the key and where sent to the hill behind the house. Only lit by our mobile phones we followed one small path and reached the top of the hill.
There was nothing. This barren field was really supposed to be the toilet? Then we discovered the small outhouse at the edge of the hill and burst into laughter.
After a night in which not all of us slept well (due to some strange sounds, that were actually only produced by the other persons in the room, turning around and hitting the wall with their big feet:)
Reena and I got up early and watched the sunrise behind the woods and the Laliguras trees.
A propos, every girl was given a Laliguras flower later by one charming Sarwanam member.
Later we went on a morning walk to a picturesque temple in the wood. First we saw a stupa that was being renovated. Some painters renewed the colourful pictures on the stupa, two white stone deers were placed on the grass, yet to be coloured.
We passed the gate, walked some stairs up to the temple and saw a tree that must have recently crashed down. Of course all these places perfectly served as backgrounds for one photo-session after the other. The wood was a peaceful place. Light fell through the needles of the pine trees. Following the path we came to a place that offered a good view on the far away mountains.
Then we returned.
The last day, the last performance
All in all, for me the last performance felt okay. Not as strange as the first one, but also not as perfect as the second one.
A main difference was that it took a very long time to gather the audience and that in between the tension got lost. I heard most villagers were watching some series on TV, so they wouldn´t like to come now. I was a bit confused about that answer, I thought there was no electricity, only batteries.
The same order was repeated: first some again: first, the curious children arrived, followed by sceptical, pretty cool looking guys with sunglasses and hooded sweaters. Then some elderly ladies would arrive and take their seats. At last, hesitating the adults would also join.
The madal was ready, but nobody really took control of the situation. The villagers and we Sarwanam members couldn´t agree on one song everyone knew. We danced a bit, without real energy. We were about to start, when one old man decidedhis time on stage had come. He grabbed the drum and wouldn´t easily stop playing again.
But fortunately we are so flexible. He should have his performance, let´s turn this into an open stage.
Then we finally started.
The way back
The white jeep reappeared. We stowed away our luggage in the car and filled with new impressions of sounds, images, incidents and tastes returned to Kathmandu.
The road was dusty and unfixed first, leading out of the hills, then asphaltic and smooth. We saw a car that had skidded out of the turn and crashed down the hill.
We stopped in Banepa to have dinner together for one last time. We shared Momos and Chowmein. A marching band made its way down the road, followed by cheering and dancing people.
We were welcomed by the million lights and the inevitable smell and sound of Kathmandu and some split up at the Ring Road to reach home.
Ram and Rajesh sang my new favourite folk songs „…tato…giuso“ and „yo nilo akhas maa“ in the car for one last time.
Then the white jeep dropped me at Rato Pul.