Day 5 is the final day of the Ananse Sound Splash Storytelling Conference & Festival for me. This is a bittersweet day of mixed emotions. On one hand I am excited to be returning home to the comforts and familiarity of my life. On the other hand, Jamaicans have opened up their hearts and minds to me and I will miss their spirit.
The storytellers involved in the festival have been phenomenal. Being a cultural artist can be challenging, both mentally and spiritually, at times. There are moments when you begin to feel as though you are working in isolation, far from the voice of like-minded souls. Conferences such as these pull you back into the warmth of community.
My participation in the festival closed out with festivities at Seville Heritage Park. When our group arrived, I had the feeling that I was entering a historical landmark long before seeing any signs of it. The acreage of the park was lush and green. Along the drive into the park we encountered the rubble of old stone structures, an enormous furnace and various small wildlife.
As we gathered for the opening of the day, Amina introduced us to the story of the bodies of three Africans that had been found during an archeological dig on the site. One of the bodies, that of a young woman, remains buried on the grounds of the Seville House. The locals affectionately refer to her as “Christi.” Part of the plaque on her memorial reads “Tribute to our African Ancestors: God Bless Their Souls.”
The festival activities for the day kicked off in typical Jamaican fashion with music and dancing. In the beginning, there was only one man demonstrating traditional Jamaican moves. Without invitation, two beautiful little girls jumped from their seats and started dancing together. They were well rehearsed. I love watching children in their natural, uninhibited play. It reminds me of how much we lose as adults through our trials of “growth” and “maturing.”
Not one to be outdone by any child, I bolted from my seat and ran towards the front of the tent where a group of students sat from a local elementary school. “I need someone to teach me some dance steps!” I shouted above the music excitedly. They all laughed as I started imitating some of the moves I’ve seen. I was hoping one of them would take pity on an old man and guide me in the right direction. One brave little girl’s hand shot up high into the sky and she darted from around her peers with a big, bright smile on her face. She’s the one pictured in this blog post.
She grabbed my hand with confidence and said, “Look me!” She then started dancing. I did my best to imitate the moves and I think I was doing all right. Her bravery inspired many others to want to jump up and help me out but I remained faithful to my dance partner. It reminded me of dancing with my daughters and granddaughter. Being lost in that moment of joy was a highlight of this trip. If there was any ice to be broken among the assembled crowd, then it was indeed shattered during our collective singing and dancing.
When the music ended, I thanked the fearless young lady for her bravery and willingness to help an “old man” learn something new.
During the rest of the festival we facilitated workshops, ate together, laughed, and, in between all of that, we shared stories.
Possibly the most touching experience for me came during a break. There was popcorn being served and I love popcorn! I went and got two bags. Yes two bags! I’m a grown man and they were serving this popcorn in little “kid-size” bags. No human being alive can, reasonably, be expected to eat only a few handfuls of popcorn.
Anyway, I grabbed my two bags of popcorn and headed off to a spot for solitary contemplation before having to get back into the swing of the excitement of the festival. I tend to need time to be in my own head during the day.
So… I found the perfect spot. A beautiful patch of grass where dozens upon dozens of butterflies were flittering around brightly colored orange and yellow flowers. My little patch of seclusion ran adjacent to a little trench. I kicked my sandals off, sat down and dangled my feet over the edge to prepare for nature’s delicacy of fresh popped popcorn.
As I sat there munching, about 15 to 20 children started running in my direction. Have you ever seen a mass of birds flying in the sky and they all, without a sound or visible signal, alter their direction midflight? This is what I saw with this group of children. I don’t think any of them said anything to one another; they all just started running in my direction simultaneously.
I was pelted with questions, “Where you from storyman?” “Why you take them shoes off ya feet out here storyman?”
Their comfort level was very high with me. That always feels good. I engaged them as the father and grandfather that I am. I pelted them back with questions. “Which one of ya’ll is a storyteller?” “Who is the fastest runner here?”
The lack of organization in our discourse was so much fun!
As I sat there munching on my 1st bag of popcorn, I became acutely aware of the fact that I had two bags. I began to have that gnawing pain of consciousness that plagues my daily existence and I asked myself, “Are you really going to sit here and eat both bags of popcorn in front of these children?” I’m not going to lie; there was a side of me that seriously considered not sharing. That was some good popcorn! But you know me and you know I couldn’t do that.
I had them share the second bag and, although it was not a huge amount of popcorn, they managed to distribute it evenly and share in a manner that international governments could learn a lesson from.
The music started back up and that was our signal to return to the tent. Walking across the field with the children was fun. They were like little bees buzzing around honey. I think we could have sat out there for the rest of the day and held our own little festival-conference.
Throughout the rest of the day there was a blending of soulful energies and joy that cannot be put into words. The musicians and tellers from Jamaica floored me. They all represented their culture with such flare and style.
As we closed out the day I became a bit sad. I had to head over to our van that was taking half of us back to Kingston for our flights the next day. I took my time before entering the van to make sure that I looked each and every soul in the eye.
The drive back to Kingston was long and quiet. I think we were all exhausted. Occasionally we would run out of paved road. The rocking and tilting of our van on the uneven surfaces would jolt everyone wide-awake. We would remain awake until our van touched paved road again. In between the periods of silence, there was wonderful conversation.
I think this is what I’m going to miss most about Jamaica, those brief moments between planned activities and agendas when we would just sit and talk.
I have about sixteen hours left in Jamaica. I’m going to sleep but, while in Kingston, there are a few things that I “must” do before heading back to the US.