Today eight of my students had their graduation ceremony. They come from a range of nationalitities and have each been here for either three, six or nine months. We closed down the school early and took them and our entire staff to Langa Community Centre which is in one of the oldest townships in Cape Town. It is the most developed township and it was a pleasant surprise when one of my colleagues pulled me aside and honestly asked if this was 'really' a township.
The community centre is an Artistic hub; one can do pottery, mosaic, photography, theatre, dance, music and other miscellaneous activities there. There were tourists taking tours through the building potentially as part of a township tour and there is an awesome little shop selling crockery, art, jewellery and mosaics that are made at the centre. The building is covered in colour and is incredibly vibrant and welcoming.
The students knew they were going to be visiting a township and nothing else so everything was a surprise. I think they were a bit anxious about what was to come and were afraid that they would have to make a spectacle of themselves. Luckily this was not the plan. Their first mission was to paint a mug, serving spoon,bowl or expression cup which will be glazed and kept as a totem. Then there was the ceremony.
My boss had a vision of honouring the students in a different way, in a way that they would forever look back on this day and warm their hearts so the plan was to create a ritualistic ceremony inspired by Nguni Praise Poetry and Playback Theatre. I have been a member of Bonfire Theatre Project for the past three years and due to budget limitations we couldn't hire the troupe, so instead, we asked Siphu to be our 'praise poet' and playback artist. We gathered positive quotes about each of the graduates from both staff and fellow students and then re-allocated them to the staff so each would read some praise that was not their own.
We placed the chairs in a circle as if sitting around a fire. Siphu as our leading poet recited some heightened prose specific to each individual and then pulled them into the middle of the fire and they were then showered with compliments, memories and moments as well as encouragement for future endeavours. A playback session followed this. For those of you not familiar with this form of theatre, it encompasses actors, a facilitator and an audience. The facilitator gets stories out of the audience and the actors immediately play the story back through improvisation. Ther is no discussion simply the act of making and accepting offers related to the story at hand. Siphu and I played back the stories about the proudest or most significant experience the learners had whilst in Cape Town.
Finally the students had the opportunity to honour each other and were given a physical copy of all the praise that was gathered for them. We all then jumped on a bus and went to a Chisa Nyama at Amadodas. A Shisa Nyama is the gathering of people around a butcher and a Braai (barbecue). Usually held in townships it is a time to eat good meat, drink beer, dance and be merry. We have never had a party at Amadodas before and right now as I write they are, I hope, having an absolute ball of a time.
It was a sentimental graduation for me because since I've been working at EF I have been lucky enough to be involved in about nine ceremonies which have culminated the journey for a few hundred students. They have all been spectacular in their own way and I've definitely cried at them all for the emotions released at such occasions is always cathartic. This grad though is my last one and it was in many ways one that sat close to my heart in terms of structure and content. The students were all sober and present. They were able to release some artistic energy through the painting and were then showered with words of praise that were thought through and weaver specifically for their individual growth. They were then listened to and heard and given the chance to reflect on their journey without judgment. And finally given a token that will always be a beacon in dark moments if needed. They were honoured and raised and one cannot ask much more from such an occasion.
I too was honoured this evening. Most unexpectadly by a man whom I only shared the space with for a brief time. I have been a teetotaller for the past two and a half months and thus have probably been taking advantage of my sobriety to be as extravagant as I feel when in a party atmosphere. A lot of the time alcohol is the excuse to start a party or to dance and I have taken it on as my mission to make the most of a party irrespective of the booze-meter. I dance if the music inspires me, and the music was particularly fabulous this evening as the DJ was playing three of my favourite genres. Reggae, kwaito and dirty dub step. I found my Colombian superstar (one of the graduates) and we started dancing our socks off. Taking into account it was six in the evening and for the students the party was just beginning thus no one but us were dancing, and really shaking it we were. Half an hour later the bus was leaving so I started saying my farewells. When an eccentric looking man in his 60's waring red pants, with a red bow tye pulled me aside and told me to wait 5 minutes. I politely told him I had to go as the bus was waiting but he politely told me I HAD to wait 5 minutes. I surrendered to his desire and waited. He then stopped the music, took out a mic and he praised my spirit. He fed my ego in all the ways one can desire to be fed and even kissed my feet. An eccentric move from an eccentric man but I will not lie, it felt great to have someone tell me positive things about me. It felt magnificent to feel that days of hard work were acknowledged by a complete stranger who felt moved and empowered to keep me back and stop the party to praise my ego and being. I humbly accepted his gift and then like Cinderella fled to the bus to come home.
Today was a special day on a number of levels. And I shall sleep like a baby knowing that today eight young stars were given the rite of passage to take their next step on their journey of la vida. And that maybe a new mentor has entered my life.