Quite a performance (one way and another)

posted in: Ethiopian project | 1

It had finally arrived, the day of the performance, the reason I was here in Ethiopia.  It did not begin well.  I discovered that, for the third or fourth time I have been here, there was no water in the apartment.  As usual, I messaged Anchu, and as usual she responded immediately, to apologise for “the inconvenience”, and to send a man who would deliver a ten gallon drum of water.  Then (again for about the third or fourth time, the power went off, knocking out the wifi, and with it the radio – my lifeline.  No point in ringing Anchu this time; power cuts affect Addis on a regular basis.

At lunchtime, I had arranged to meet Binyam and Bezu; they had invited me for lunch (an invitation I regarded more as a duty than a pleasure.)  When we met, outside Angla Burger, he relayed the request from Alazar for 6000 birre, to pay for a celebration after the show.  And this was the final straw.  I told them I had been asked for money out of my pocket just about every day, and… well, let’s just say that I became a little emotional.  Awkward all round, but I thought they’d got the message.

We took a taxi to Beza’s sister’s house, their own house being too far away for a sensible return journey.  Her sister and brother-in-law had a most attractive modern apartment, but, like so many buildings here, what must once have been most luxurious, with a marble staircase and fancy banisters, was now mouldy with damp, with bare wires poking out of stained walls.  They had BBC News on the TV as a concession to me, which caused me and the brother-in-law to agree on how awful the news was from Gaza.  I was asked whether I believed in God; it is something I have been asked several times here.  I conveyed my own views as respectfully as I could, then joined them in saying grace.  As expected, the meal was enjira with a couple of hot dishes and some salad, and I did my best; I am finding enjira increasingly unpalatable.

The taxi dropped me back at the Film School, while Binyam and Beza went off to do some chore or other, assuring me they would be back at 5.30.  The cast drifted in, as I knew they would, and they immediately lifted my spirits; I really do like them a lot.  I eventually chivvied them into the classroom (herding cats), ran through some notes, sorted out the ending (dreadful last night), and just began a warm-up… which swiftly had to be abandoned when I felt I was on the verge of throwing up.  I rushed off to collect the key and take myself down one flight to the utterly disgusting toilet.

I am certain that this was not pre-performance nerves, but lunchtime enjira.  I am certain there was nothing wrong with the food itself, but I had felt similarly ill the last time I had tried an Ethiopian meal, and some sort of muscle memory was kicking in.

Binyam was late, of course, arriving out of breath with ten minutes to spare.  Then Alazar asked for ten minutes so that he could get the video camera ready.  Then more people arrived, meaning more chairs had to be fetched from the classroom.  Then Atala’s mum and stepdad arrived – God knows how they made it up the stairs, both pretty ancient and dressed traditionally, white-robed both.  It was a good thing the start had been delayed; the play only lasts thirty minutes, and they would have had a long journey for ten minutes of confusing theatre otherwise.  And then more people arrived.

But, at last, we began.  And it was… terrific.  All of the things that had gone so wrong last night went right tonight (“that’s what makes for a great performance!”).  I had successfully persuaded Binyam to cut out the superfluous sound he had added last night – including a doorbell.  I assured him it was both safer and funnier to have the sound delivered by the human “door”, and it was gratifying when that particular moment got a laugh.

The whole cast lifted their game, including the weakest members, and the action scenes ran smoothly.  I was hugely proud of them, and felt, at last, that the effort and emotional strain had been worth it.  I suppose I wished the audience had been more responsive, but maybe that was a cultural battle too far. On the journey home, with Binyam insisting on accompanying me for some of the way, he told me he was having trouble changing the dollars I had given him as a wedding gift.  I did offer to exchange them for Birre, at a mildly favourable exchange rate, but he told me this was not enough, that he wanted the black market rate (or rather more than, I believe.)  Ah well, I told him, that’s all I have.  He did mention an ATM, but I brushed that aside.  And we parted.

November 3rd 1983

posted in: The way back | 0

Locals on board, surrounded by sacks of betel nuts

Today was the day we hoped, at last, to be moving on.  It would not matter so much, since we are scarcely spending money, except that a) our visa soon expires, + b) we have the flight connections to make into Indonesia.  Val had spent a good deal of time yesterday laboriously re-separating the muesli – we still can’t face it – into 3 parts: oats, bran, and fruits + nuts, so we were able to have bran + banana for breakfast, + then we set to work packing + clearing up.  Our old pack (christened Jack because it used to have a Union Jack sewn on it) had had its frame buckled beyond repair during the buffeting it received along the Trail, so we decided to jettison the frame.  The pack itself, tho’ we were keeping – since we were jettisoning very little else, we had need of all its carrying ability – so Val had re-sewn the straps to the pack itself.  Luckily, we aren’t carrying the huge food stocks any more – otherwise we’d never manage.

Walked down to the Training Centre + had a last cup of coffee with Nancy – luckily we’d arrived during her break.  There is a good view of the Port from their flat, so she suggested we wait there until our boat arrived, but we wanted to be down there where the action was, even if there was  no action, so we left a K10 donation, promised to write, said goodbye, + left.  I was carrying Val’s pack (Macpac) for the first time, + found it very extraordinary indeed, more like a sack of potatoes with straps than an expensive hiker’s pack (+ one she had pronounced herself more than pleased with.)  However, it doubtless needs adjusting.  My feet were also making things difficult.  I had worn my socks, in an attempt to keep my feet as clean as possible, + had intended to wear my boots too, but when I came to put them on, they had dried to the consistency of stiff cardboard, + my swollen feet + aching sores could not endure them, so I had to try tp keep my flip-flops on over my socks as best I could.

When we arrived, a bigger ship, the Lae Chief, was tied up at the dock.  We’d been told it didn’t normally take passengers,  but as I prepared to walk up to her anyway to enquire, she hoisted the gangplank aboard preparatory to leaving.  At this, I sat down again – I was sure they wouldn’t replace it for us – but Val became annoyed at me, tho’ I suspect her annoyance was as much at our sheer bad fortune at arriving just too late.  I went thro’ to the port area anyway, to discover what news I could.  And it wasn’t at all good.  Our boat, the Nagana, was indeed coming in this afternoon,  but was then leaving again for Tufi, a town in the wrong direction, + would be returning to Oro Bay tomorrow, preparatory to leaving for Lae.  This news dismayed + depressed us both, tho’ things did improve just a little when I met Lance, + he was able to arrange, thro’ an intermediary, that we could sail down to Tufi with them for the ride, + then return.  This wouldn’t really help, of course, but at least we wouldn’t have to return, metaphorical cap in hand, to the hospital, + we would have a definite place reserved for when the boat sailed to Lae – there were a lot of local people going home after the celebrations at the consecration, tho’ nobody seemed to know whether they were going to Tufi or Lae.

So we cooked a bowl of instant Vesta Nasi Goreng on the quayside, + then lugged our bags aboard.  I was hoping fervently we wouldn’t provoke a race-riot, or even simple resentment at our favoured treatment, as there were a lot of people on the quayside, waiting to board.  Some of them were in traditional costume, little more than a loin-cloth, + looked very fierce indeed.  The afternoon was boring, the only entertainment being watching them trying to unload – a more inept bunch of dockers it would be difficult to imagine.  Oil drums were hoisted off the ship, + eventually 2 of them picked up by the forklift.  Then it was realised the truck they were to be loaded onto was at the other end of the quay, so he had to be fetched.  The forklift driver loaded the drums onto the truck by driving furiously at it, so that his load leapt from the forks onto the truck.  The poor driver, the only one on the back, was in imminent danger of being crushed  by these rolling monsters, as he desperately struggled to heave them upright + into some semblance of order.  Poor Lance was by now running round like a mad thing, furiously doing all in his power to get the ship unloaded, + doing the work of 5 men as a result, while the local labour force looked bemused, or got in the way.  His shirt was soon nothing more than a sopping piece of cloth – it was like this every time, he said.  Still, the whole business of non-loading did at least have entertainment value.

By early evening, still very few of the patiently waiting crowd had boarded, + in fact, tho’ I couldn’t make out the exact meaning, there seemed to be some angry words – I didn’t know if these people were wanting to go to Lae, or what.  On some signal, however, they all seemed to move, and all of a sudden the road from the shore out to the end of the quay was swarming with people carrying bundles.  Even so, the area in which we’d stowed our bags was relatively unused.  It was only when I went forward + looked into the hold area that I could see where they had all crammed themselves.  People, people, people, bags, sacks, drums – on every square inch.  It would have made a terrific photograph, except it was  now too dark.

We sailed finally, after a long wait, at about 7 – both Val + I read – she “The Greening of America” (now in its 3rd country with us), + me a Patrick White Novel, “A Fringe of Leaves”, picked up from the house.  Good too.  Finally fell asleep, with New Guinea chants + drumbeats in my ears.

On the move once again. As I said, we were happy enough to rest and recuperate, but we did have a deadline, when the plane flew us the short journey over the border to Irian jaya, to meet. And we still wanted to see more of PNG.

Dress rehearsal/first night

posted in: Ethiopian project | 0

One way and another, something of a frustrating day.  We made a later start, with a 6 pm time set for opening.  Officially, this was also our first night, but since we had not yet run the play with all the different components in place – a set, and some sound effects, it really could not have been considered as such., despite the fact that we had half a dozen members of the audience, chiefly Atala’s sister and her children.  But almost inevitably, we spent the majority of the afternoon faffing around with the set, the props…  So any hopes I might have had of having a run during the afternoon disappeared.

But what distressed me particularly was the lack of thought about sound.  It was fortunate that the TV company had been there yesterday, for two of the sections they filmed had music to back them, so through force of necessity some suitable pieces had been selected.  But I have been saying for some time that we needed to find a piece to complete the show.  The play ends with a celebratory dance, which Binyam needed to choreograph, since it needed an Ethiopian feel, but it was soon clear that not only had he given no thought to this, there wasn’t even a piece to accompany it.  And when he started to work on a piece that was entirely reliant on them creating the dance with nothing more than a percussive chant, I did become more than a little annoyed, for I knew there was not a chance on earth that they would have the confidence to deliver such a thing without loads of practice… and the performance time was approaching.  So Binyam found something on his phone, some sort of (very vague) structure ws established… and that would have to do.

To be fair to Binyam, he had been relying on Alazar coming up with something, and it is clear that he feels seriously let down.  I have to agree.  With the exception of creating the rather sharp little poster (and it is little – he presented me with something about the size of a banknote) he has actually contributed virtually nothing.  It is true that he is busy for much of the time, but he must have known that would be the case.

After a pep talk and a warm-up, we were off.  And actually, they had clearly listened to my instruction that they should remain calm, for they were settled in their opening places in good time.  Far more than Binyam and Beza, who were looking after the sound between them, and were in a bit of a state.

“Dress rehearsals are supposed to go wrong,” to quote Thame Youth Theatre’s first show.  “That’s what makes for a good performance.”  On which basis there are grounds for optimism, for there were quite a few things that went wrong.  But that was to be expected.  What annoyed me most was the fact that Binyam really did not do a very good job with the sound, in particular adding in stuff off his own bat that we had never discussed, which to my mind detracted from the performance.  And, unsurprisingly, the final dance and bow was a mess. But at the end, the cast were pretty buzzy when we reached the end, and this was not the time to deflate any of that – I had already told them I would give notes tomorrow.  In many ways, the performance was much as I had assumed it would be.  And I have been through enough productions to know that miraculous improvements can occur.  But we only have the one chance to get it right, so it’s a serious case of crossed fingers.

November 2nd 1983

posted in: The way back | 0

Tried to arise a little earlier today, to go to the bi-weekly market.  It was, tho’, a long hot walk, along a dusty road.  But worth it, since it was a far bigger affair than I would have imagined, both in terms of the number of people there, + in the variety of produce being offered – I had only really expected a few lime fruits + vegetables.  We bought a pineapple, a cucumber, a bunch of spinach-type leaves, some bananas, 2 hard-boiled eggs, + a water melon.  But they also had corn (cooked + uncooked), pumpkin, smoked fish, breads + cakes, betel nuts, sweet potatoes, + nylon string (this last being for making the string bags they all carry.)

We plodded home once more with our purchases, pausing briefly at the Trade Store to buy a can of fish, + then to home where Val prepared a fine lunch.  She’d baked some more bread, which unfortunately had not worked out as successfully as yesterday’s, but we had egg + cucumber + most important tea, so all was well.  Val slept for most of the afternoon, while I wrote this, + then, under some urging, cooked our tea.  Partly successful, in that the fish + rice were very tasty, the spinach virtually inedible.  I also cooked some sweet rice, which we ate with pineapple.  This was nice, tho’ could have been cooked a little more.  I was still annoyed, however, by Val telling me so.  I’m not a good receiver of criticism, which should make me less ready to deliver it.  We spent a quiet evening, reading.

Quiet domesticity, for the most part, while we wait for the boat to arrive. Probably just as well, while we allow our bodies to recover from the walk.

November 1st 1983

posted in: The way back | 1

The morning seemed to pass almost before we knew it, but we did perform some chores, + Val even cooked some bread that was entirely satisfactory.  We then strolled down to the port, to enquire about boats.  We also wanted to look in at the Trade Stores along the way, to see if they could provide better than the one Val had already been to, but we weren’t able to find one that was open.  At the port, our luck was no better.  The Port Officer raised our spirits briefly by telling us about a boat to Lae tomorrow, but then we discovered he had mistaken the day, + meant Thursday.  We chatted for a while with Martin, a Malay working for CDC on the HOPPL project, + then headed for home.

We had thought of going to a beach a little way round the coast from the port, but then decided not to – I was tired, + in any case our feet had just been dressed.  I should explain that, after our initial worries about Val’s feet, it was now mine causing most concern.  Both my feet + ankles have swelled up alarmingly, + don’t seem to want to go down, so we are worried that this could be a general infection from one of the ones on my feet.  However, since I don’t have a pain or swelling in my groin – apparently a reasonably sure symptom – we are just treating the sores + hoping for the best.

Washed thro’ our dirty clothes in the afternoon, after which I had a nap.  We had been invited to the Sisters’ flat for dinner in the evening, so we showered + dressed ourselves up a little, + then went over.  I hadn’t known what to expect, knowing that supplies are not easy to get, but in fact it was a real feast.  We were given a cold + delicious fruit drink first of all, plus a bowl of salted peanuts, + then the main meal itself – a tangy meat loaf, served with local vegetables – sweet potato, pumpkin, a sort of local spinach, + choko in a white sauce (this last was my favourite – sweet potato I find too rich.)  Then pears in jelly with tinned cream (now that takes me back – paralysed cream, Dad used to call it, + he said it was like emulsion paint, but I’ve always loved it.)  And then we chatted.  Or at least we fired questions, mostly at Nancy, which she endeavoured to answer.  Not as many anecdotes as I would have liked, but some.  Such as travelling for 5 hours in a canoe to reach a remote village.  And Annette showed us some of her photographs, tho’ they were unlabelled, + mostly snapshots of friends + students, so of little interest to us.  All in all tho’, a lovely evening.

Actually, an update on that not many pictures of the people we stayed with comment; not many photos at all in PNG, though rather more of the more exotic local inhabitants – I suppose they seemed more photo-worthy, but actually, I am sad that there are none of the other people we met. And in particular, Annette and Nancy, who really were a throwback to a different era (as well as being just wonderfully nice.)