Were you there when the sounds of hands clapping and slapping against thighs alternated rhythmically in that hall? Had you been there, at the Windhoek Youth Multipurpose Resource Center, you would have heard our clapping game and if you came to peek into the hall you would have seen us. I was part of the group of fourteen young people who were playing this game of rhythm and response – you kept the beat and shouted the word ‘oats’ if someone called your name followed by your request. It turned out to be a little too complicated for us to play for long, but it was soon followed by another game in a circle with rhythm and clapping called ‘Big Bootie’ that I played at Princeton. Here I was now again with young people leading them in an exercise to calm their nerves, build a group bond and just have plain old fun, at the UWC selections in Namibia. I was there – at the United World College of the Adriatic and the selection day on April 17th 2011, the latter being as much a rite of passage in my life as a United World College scholar as the former.
The day began in the morning at about 9:30, though I only arrived after 10. I was fortunate enough to attend as just someone who would play ‘ice breaker’ games with the group and two other UWC ex-students Patrick and Fabian. They, however, we also observing the candidates during these group activities for the selection of the five who would be offered places at UWCs around the world, four of which were either partially or fully funded places. I imagine that as Namibia is now an upper middle income scholarship, the UWCs have also given us the option of partially funded and even unfunded places (the fifth place on offer this year) for the UWC. Granted, there are rich people in Namibia, but all of the kids here, all fourteen of them, were there to get a scholarship to a school in another country. The ice breaker games we played were my way of letting cease the moment and enjoy each other’s company without the pressure of having to compete.
The kids came from all over the country, one boy from the currently flood stricken north, one girl from the so called ‘Bremen with palm trees’ Swakopmund at the coast, while the others were all from the capital, Windhoek, as far as I know. The also commanded different languages and their different English accents, all local, betrayed the fact they had other mother tongues. The there were those who probably did speak English as a mother tongue, but that is normal with our currently hip and urbanized generation.
I know that had we taken a picture, we would have an ideal photo for one of those US college and University viewbooks (we did tell them about US universities as well and the whole connection to UWC and how they could apply regardless of the outcome of the whole selection).
There were a lot more games that we did, many of which involved oral expression. They ranged from speeches given extemporaneously of 30 seconds on a topic given on a piece of paper, write and deliver a longer ‘I have a dream’ type speech they had about 15 minutes to prepare. There were also two wonderful debates, one on a possible age restriction to facebook and the whether or not community service should be obligatory in school. They brought me back to the days when I did debate, at high school in Namibia and then later at the United World College where I organized a club in my second year (after I realized many of my English speaking co-students including Chenxin from HK, Nimneh from the UK and non-English speakers could do one.)
I have not debated in years, literally. I now find it difficult to respond on the spur of the moment and I require a great deal of reflection to gather and write my thoughts. I guess this is why I am blogging here.
But I did try and chip away at the hegemony of English. The first activity we did was a warm where the kids in a circle, of course, sang the song, ‘I’m alive awake, alert, enthusiastic’ while doing the movements with the fingers, hands and then full body. Mi sono ritrovato fra questi giovani a insegnargli questa canzone in italiano: sono vivo, sveglio,attento, entusiasto.Abbiamo fatto le prove di questa canzone alcune volte, soffermandoci sulla pronuncia corretta di ‘sveglio’ prima di cantarla coi muovimenti, le due dita indici orizontali in avanti, li retiri e poi li estendi su verticali, repettendo questo muovimento al ritmo delle parolle, ‘sono, vivo, sveglio…’ e poi li fai più grandi colle braccia e alla fina con tutto il corpo. Che coinvolgimento del corpo e della mente sviluppando le faccoltà motori e linguistiche!
We did do in Italian, but not before singing it in Afrikaans. It took us a while to find the right translation to the works ‘alive awake alert and enthusiastic’, but we managed, that is a language to that needs to be articulated by the whole body.
I am glad Patrick was there, because he taught us the gumboot dance! We learnt a quick routine, much like we would have learnt for the Friday performance for a national week. We learnt the gumboot dance we never did for our African week, my co-year from Canada (who is also Indian-Japanese-African) never actually taught it to us, but we did some great dances anyway! What a routine it was, with the feet and tights, and steps, and I got it!
So I am glad I was not selecting any of the students, it would have been an impossible task. They were all so amazing! Even though some were naturally more outgoing, by the end of the day at 5pm they had all shown their strengths either in leading games, playing game well, public speaking and debate.
What is this thing we call UWC? I think we had a taste of it that selection day!