Day Twenty-Nine: Rigueur/Douceur

The kids’ vests said it all: rigor and softness. We’ll ask the children to work hard and we’ll love them.

Lydia, Marie-paule and I visited the Toubacouta school for young students yesterday. I was there first so I walked through the gate into a courtyard with swings, hanging backpacks, and shoes lined up in neat rows outside of the main building. I sat on the step and wondered if this place would be a big part of my life someday.

When the women arrived, we walked towards the door and were greeted by a teacher in a lovely African dress, splashed with colour. She smiled radiantly and ushered us inside. Kids were spread over the floor in two groups, all sitting on big mats. Eyes widened and bodies started bouncing. Marie-paule and Lydia began talking to a few adults but I didn’t want to do that. I sat on a chair beside lots of young ones – about five years old. Within seconds, legs lifted bodies, hands extended to mine and personal space was just some weird Western concept.

Kids reached for my glasses. They rubbed my white arms. They sought my grey hair. I said no to some of it but mostly I loved the contact.

A shrill teacher voice in a language I didn’t understand jolted eyes wide and sent feet scurrying back to the mat. Tiny blackboards were distributed and students got to work with their chalk. Drawings, rather than letters, were created. Rags and a bucket of water were nearby for erasing and starting again. It reminded me a lot of the Grade 5/6 class back in Canada when the kids were doing Math.

The space was packed with noise … and movement. I smiled to think of teachers’ reactions to this situation back home. Every minute or two, a Senegalese teacher would yell at some kid. At least I think that was what was happening. It was rapid-fire words with definitely an edge to them.

Later in the morning, I got to attend a language class with about fifteen kids. French was the language being learned. It appeared that a new girl was joining the class and the lesson was about how to welcome her. As well as coaching the students about what words to use, the teacher had each child approach the new one, make eye contact and shake her hand. Very cool. When each student completed the task, the teacher smiled at them, drew them close and placed a kiss on the cheek. Yes, I was in another world, but it was still reminiscent of tender moments in Canadian classrooms.

During my time in Senegal, I’ve given away most of the gifts that the kids in Belmont had made or provided – bracelets, books, beach balls. What remained was four skipping ropes, donated by a creative young lady in Grade 6. Lydia advised me to give them to teachers at the school so everyone could enjoy them. Good plan. So I did.

At recess, one of the teachers took an orange rope outside. Soon she and a child were on either end and kids took turns jumping in. I should have suspected that they’d be naturals. Then Lydia grabbed a rope and demoed solitary skipping. Woh! Small eyes followed the bouncing human.

***

Lots of young faces
A few old faces
Faces

Day Six: Faces Together

I moved through Central Park on my way to the MET … the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As I roamed the pathways, I came upon an alcove filled with circular beauty. It was a huge sculpture of Alice in Wonderland and her friends. Alice gazed down at the Cheshire Cat … in love. I couldn’t look away from the beams of light that joined their eyes. I paused a very long time.

I climbed the stairs of the huge building and stepped inside to the grand space. The choices inside the MET are overwhelming, or so I perceived them:

Jewelry: The Body Transformed

Artistic Encountets with Indigenous America

Seeing the Divine: Pahari Painting of North India

Streams and Mountains Without End: Landscape Traditions of China

Corridors beckoned in all directions but I sat down. Why was I here? To learn about the art of different times and places? No. To experience myself as an artist, walking beside all these creators? No. Something else was present in the space. It had nothing to do with landscapes, or abstracts, or scenes of streets. It had everything to do with the human face. And not the solitary ones. What was drawing me were faces in communion with other faces. Contact.

So I roamed the galleries, rarely reading the descriptions accompanying the paintings or sculptures. Not wanting to understand, just to experience the connections. And it happened. Worlds of joined eyes presented themselves to me.

I took pictures here and there. Once I was in a gallery and looked down the hallway to the one next door. There stood two people facing each other. They were magnetic. For the next hour, it felt that some unknown force was drawing me from one exhibit to the next. And friends in stone or paint kept saying hi. I smiled back.

I don’t know what else to say. The rest is visual. I’ll transfer this post to Facebook and add a whole bunch of photos … faces all. You’ll get the idea.