We travel to experience another culture, to hear songs in foreign languages, to dance with abandon in foreign soil, and to repeat loudly the names of those we’re meeting on the journey. We also travel to celebrate that people are people, that challenges are similar the world over, that conflict and the resolution thereof are a part of the human existence. And to take in satisfying moments of realizing that laughter is laughter in any part of the world, that a smile, a small gesture of light, is the same the world over.
Though we can’t travel physically because of the pandemic we were able to get into a virtual story train and stop in African countries to hear stories of naughty children, old women with sores, stubborn goats and wise kings. Isitimela Sendaba united people over the now popular Zoom platform to not only listen to stories and sing along, but to connect. Many people lament regularly about travel being too expensive around the continent but through this collaboration with Play Africa, ASSITEJ SA enabled us to take glimpses into destinations we might not have enough coins to visit.
Story after story, we read excited comments saying, “Hey we have that story in our culture too!” A generous outpouring of each other’s cultures, a celebration of our similarities. A reminder that people are people and our stories are the same.
When my eyes lifted from the storyteller, they landed on the small boxes of children. Some, small babies sitting on the laps of their mothers, clapping excitedly to the songs or their eyes popping when hearing a word repeated. And children, sitting alone in front of the screen, eyes darting about almost unable to comprehend that though in their homes, they are also experiencing Nigeria or Namibia or Zimbabwe all at the same time with so many other people.
I have dreamt about such times over and over. An opportunity to have African storytellers under one roof, singing, teaching, and learning from each other. I have dreamt of the days we would meet and make means of preserving our stories, passing them on from one culture to the next, accompanied by slow instructions, “See, in our language a frog is called Skolopad, but that is borrowed from the Afrikaans language,” aware of how much we know and how much we have to learn still. But in so doing, allowing the joy of such unity to burst from our inside, breaking into song when the tension of the story is most intense.
It is so easy to lament about everything that is going wrong as a result of this pandemic, so much is going wrong. And this is an opportunity for us to address a lot of what is going wrong, to address the inequality in our education system, access to resources, and to challenge authority. But when all the fighting is done, when the day seems blue and hope is slowly fading away, it was medicine to know that at 14h00 for a good eleven days, the story train was on the platform, ready to give you an injection of joy and reprieve.
Isitimela Sendaba was born out of the collaboration of Play Africa and ASSITEJ South Africa which still continues to bring you the LIVE African Storytelling experience from Play Africa’s Facebook page every Tuesday at 14h30 pm, presented to you by the professional storytellers which include Sizwe Vilakazi, Tsholofelo Shounyane, Thembile Tshuma and myself (Baeletsi Tsatsi).
Read more about Play Africa here: www.playafrica.org.za