I know, I know. I had promised to blog more often about this experience of touring schools in Colombia as a storyteller, but the rich and deep social exchanges here in Bogota are impediments to the isolation needed in order to write. The daily decisions are difficult: Dance in the streets and eat wonderful meals with new found friends or sit in my apartment and write a blog. Hmm….
Which would you choose?
Well I feel like I owe it to those of you who’ve supported me over the years to remain committed to the blog, but I know you’ll forgive me if I happen to get caught up in enjoying the distraction that is Colombian Culture.
I completed my first week of touring schools last week. I’m doing four shows a day, five days a week. It is amazing how receptive the students are and how gentle their demeanors tend to be. At one school earlier in the week the young girls surrounded my taxi and tried to stop me from leaving. I’ve been offered food, drink and small gifts if I would just stay a while longer at some of the schools. Actions like these by children and adults who are genuinely engaged are an affirmation beyond measure.
I went to another school the following day and the young men and women exhibited a level of maturity and understanding that seemed much older than their years. The coordinator of activities at the school stopped me following my performance to have a talk and wanted a promise that I would return to their school next year. She had witnessed both my performance with the young children (K-4) and then my session with the young adults (10th – 12th grade). She provided me with extremely positive feedback regarding my ability to fluidly move between such divergent developmental levels.
Storytelling sessions with older, young adults (i.e. 16, 17 and 18 years of age) are not anything like what I do for the younger children. For the young adults the sessions are more like conversations where I drop in a small anecdote (story), parable or proverb here and there. There is a flow and rhythm to these conversations that I love. I treat the students as adults, as equals. I let them know that I have as much to learn from them as they might think they can learn from me.
During one conversation a young woman of about 17 years of age expressed her disappointment on a recent vacation that she and her family had taken to the United States. Her English fluency was phenomenal and much better than the rest of her family so she ended up acting as the interpreter for everyone. As she spoke of the negative stereotypes she and her family suffered because they were from Colombia, her face saddened. Her countenance was altered from that of a wide-eyed, smiling teen, enjoying my anecdotes and jokes to a more mature, despondent look. I listened to her story of harassment, discrimination and prejudice and felt my heart sicken.
A spontaneous, “I am so sorry for what you and your family suffered,” came from my mouth.
The young girl hugged me and said a thank you that I felt deep inside of myself.
I can’t help but to reflect on the ability of the loud voices of ignorance to drown out reason and compassion sometimes. I knew of the stereotypes associated with Colombia prior to coming here; in fact I had been warned by several friends and family members not to venture here. If I allowed ignorance to rule my decision-making I would not be where I am today; a success as I define it, not as others choose to define it for me.
That young woman and her friends may very well be the future leaders of nations such as Colombia some day. How will United States citizens be perceived by future generations beyond our borders due to an export of ignorance and irrational fears?
I didn’t mean to inject politics into the wonderful experience that I am having but I guess there are many dimensions to storytelling. Aren’t there?