Saturday, 5 November 2011

Thursday 3rd November

It's over. We are back. Emotional response: variable & individual. Confronted with grey skies, chilly breezes & a distinct lack of colour, there is a real feeling of loss. That said there is a certain comfort in all the familiar gloom. Much has happened in this trip & it has certainly been an experience to remember for all of us. A lot of important lessons have been learned about so many things. Note to self: do not leave the first aid kits in the staff room!

Looking back at the mere 10 days we spent in Freetown, it seems to have expanded infinitely in my memory. It feels like we have been resident for many months. Most of this has been down to the intensity of this trip. We have packed in a lot more than last year's trip & this has had an inevitable toll. Firstly, we are knackered! Secondly, we have managed to meet a lot more people, see a lot more & in general, experience more, culturally, than before. This can only be a good thing. After an excitable, unfocused start the students have really come together & have managed to do themselves proud. They have given of themselves generously & have managed to leave a vivid mark on the Freetown landscape. Without exception, they have managed to push themselves outside their comfort zones, stretch the limits of their perception & push the boundaries of their abilities. It has been especially rewarding to see some really flourish in unexpected ways. It's the quiet ones you have to watch! Despite the unforgiving climate, the long hours, the paranoia about illness, the intensity of street life & the realisation of our sometimes luxurious self-indulgence they have learned something vital. I could not ask for more than that.

On an individual level, it is important to note the contributions of our group. Henry has been a rock, not in the sense of being mineral matter of variable composition, consolidated or unconsolidated but rather in the sense of being the most stable member of the group with a sensitivity to the needs of others around him. Owain supplied the cement for our musical temple by commanding rehearsals & striving for perfection. He also used his considerable Popeian wit to devastating effect consistently. Vivian's street cred has really rocketed since her drive-by kicking of my good self into the pool & her domination of the Swamp hood. However, her no-nonsense, no-talking policy in the kitchen preparation area ensured a brief reign of terror not seen since the French Revolution . Lizzard has perfected her endearing head moves, while Lulu's penchant for disturbing yet nonsensical German children's rhymes continues unabated. Esther has tested my leadership potential by interrogating the minutiae of my best laid plans through innovative questioning. Jasmine has established herself as a poolball specialist with potential to rival her pianist tendencies. The award for most poised individual, no matter what the potentially stressful situation, goes to Christine, who would make a wonderful new-age pied piper. Hattie's directness in word association games has lead to a craving for buffet food that I never knew I had. George's novel invention of the tumble dryer that is secretly a washing machine despite its own assumptions has shown him to be a real James Dyson to watch in the near future. Ebs' face painting prowess ensured our domination of the Halloween party, mostly due to her need to cover her brother's modesty at manys a sixth form party. While Freya appears to be shy & retiring, she displays a rather worrying ability to take in nearly everything going on around her and provide a cynical commentary delivered in a frustratingly hard-to-hear murmur. They're a colourful bunch, I have to admit!

Both groups have experienced great success in their respective arenas. The Ballanta posse have taught in a more intense way, with lessons confined to between 10.00 & noon. The decision to bring ourselves to audiences rather than expecting them to come to us has proved an inspired one. Despite an admittedly shaky first school concert, visiting the schools has been brilliant way to advertise the power of music & hopefully to inspire the kids of Freetown to pick up any type of instrument & express themselves. If nothing else, it has cemented my opinion that the power of the sax is not to be underestimated. Henry's popularity with the schoolgirls of Freetown has reached critical levels! Our concert wildcard must be Christine's Vivaldi piece, which has universally received the loudest cheer is every concert. Music or musician? Or both? Either way it's a win-win situation! The success of our a capella group taking on traditional Sierra Leonean songs has seen a real cultural exchange, one that I think is more worthwhile than we realise.

Not only has success coloured the activities of the Ballanta types, the JT Reffell massive has been out in force too. Thanks to Sarah's huge efforts in organising as well as implementing a whole programme of activities in the school, both parties have benefited immensely. Providing unheard of levels of music, art, dance, drama & sport the children have had a memorable week. Our students have really proved their commitment, skill & enthusiasm by working in unfamiliar surroundings, draining heat & humidity & often with very large numbers of children. All this bore fruition in the farewell concert with JT Reffell children singing, dancing, acting, playing recorder & producing some spectacular art. The tenacity to which the children clung to Freya, Hattie, Ebs & Christine showed how much they wanted to keep learning from them & also what a fantastic job they had done. The departing tears had been predicted [it had to be the dramatic types!] and showed that the exchange was not just one way. Our trip will be the highlight of these children's school year & their temporary teachers Aunties Hattie, Freya, Ebs & Christine will not be forgotten.

This trip has been exhausting and exhilarating, substantial and successful and, finally, meaningful and metamorphosising. What more could a person ask for? Thank you to all the people who have made this such a success.

  • Firstly, to those supporting me in the trip: Paulos, Sarah, Lucy LoveHearts & Polly. Lucy's sharp observations will be much missed.
  • Secondly, all the students.
  • Thirdly, everyone at IMATT, particularly Jamie, Sand, Simon, Rocky & his crew, Jenny, Will, Nick & Linda.
  • Fourthly, to all at Ballanta: Leslie, Charlie, Jaiah, Christopher and of course, Auntie Kitty. Fumi, we are sorry to have missed you. We will talk very soon.
  • Fifthly, to the good people at JT Reffell: Pearl & Daisy. Auntie Winnie, the various Mr. Frenches, Mr. Bickley.
  • Finally, to our devoted drivers: Lamin & Edward. Spread the love brothers!

On that note of Rastafarian utopianism, I sign off. Thank you for reading. It's good to be back & it will be great to be going back.

Over & out till next time.

Mr. Meally, Sandra Bullock Uber-Fan