Zambia has been a mix of challenge and good fortune. I have been lucky to work with some the most respected & talented artists in this country. I have interacted with people from all walks of life -- politicians, radio and TV producers/presenters, families, etc. The incredible team of artists at Benecho Arts & Culture Consultancy have been an invaluable hosts and asset to me. Thank you George, Philip, Emmanuel and Richard. Without your assistance, I couldn't have linked up with all these dance companies, and pulled off appearances on ZNBC radio and the African Rise TV show.
This past week was particularly tough, working 6-8hour days, with two dance groups each day. I am humbled to be learning from and sharing my work with fellow Africans in different countries. It is particularly fascinating to see the common themes in our cultures, our challenges and our aspirations. I had a fabulous time last Friday working with an enthusiastic bunch of youngsters at the Africa Direction Youth Center, in Mutendere, Lusaka. Couldn't have ended on a better note. I am tempted to return on monday to honor the kid's request, but doubt it will happen, due to time constraints. Today, I was the guest of honor at a performance by Kulamba, a Chewa masquerade dance group, at the John Lengi "compound." Fascinating!!!!! Zambia, like many African countries, is rich in culture and traditions. It breaks my heart to see most of these slowly disappearing. Yes, we must move forward, but with deliberate caution. Because, not all movement is forward. Throwing the baby away with the bath water is not a smart thing to do. I get fired up when it comes to the role of the arts in community and nation building. The following quote partly captures the essence of my work.
"It's good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it's good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure that you haven't lost the things that money can't buy." - George Lorimer
Giving from the fullness of our radiance
Yesterday, I went to the university to teach my African dance classes and, as per my usual practice, I put out a tray of pastries and cookies for the students to enjoy as I have been doing for the past couple of months. One of the students said, “Nii Armah, thank you so much for sharing. But, you should be careful, because very soon people will be expecting you to continue providing these treats for them.” I replied, “Of course, they should expect that of me. They should expect that I will share as long as it is possible for me. People should expect that I will do my part, because this is something I can do. But, more than that, I expect that people will expect of themselves as well, that which they can provide for the common good.” The student was visibly taken aback and said, “Wow, Nii Armah, that is quite a perspective! That would never have occurred to me. I am so glad I asked you.” So I just took a moment to explain to her fully what I meant.
I explained that this is fundamentally natural, and one can think of it in metaphorical or symbolic terms. Just as the human body has parts, with each part playing its role. Each organ functions, for the good of the entire body, without holding back. So I expect my eyes to see the best they can. I expect my lungs to function the best they can. And all the parts of my body work together to keep me alive, to keep me functioning. None of my body parts consider their work a favor to the other; it’s just what they do.
I believe that every human being has something to offer society. Whether in their family, in the workplace, at school, or wherever we are, we as human beings, individually, have something to offer. And the health of our community is a reflection of how well we play our parts. In another sense, the sun shines all the time. And even when there are clouds the sun is still shining. And anytime the sun has an opportunity, even if it’s the smallest break in the clouds, the sun comes out screaming, “I am here!” And every plant screams toward the light of the sun, no matter where they are, they turn and shoot for the sun.
As human beings I believe we each have light, we each have radiance that is yearning to be expressed, to be shared, and each of us has an attraction to the radiance in others. Now, when we take ourselves seriously in terms of what we have to offer and express the fullness of our radiance on a daily basis we each become a blessing to our society. Now, imagine a world where we all give our best, creating a culture where the norm is that of giving. When we each tap into our higher selves by giving to the fullest of our abilities, it is no favor, it is just being. When we have fear and doubt we begin to withhold the fullness of our radiance. This perspective may seem utopian and unrealistic, but I like to think that this is an overriding principle in the larger scheme of our existence.
I require my African singing and dance students to be present in every moment, and to dance fully—with body, mind, and soul. We all have the potential; we have what it takes to be amazing. But very often we hold back, because of insecurities, fear, self-judgment, or fear of being judged. And so, for the most part of the semester, the energy is not completely ripe. But the amazing thing is, whenever we have a midterm or an exam or a special guest, for some reason people come out with ridiculous energy or an amazing display of skill and talent. The question is where do we keep this energy in our daily practice?
The interesting thing is that students believe that because they give it all on this particular special day, that somehow that absolves them from all the laziness and half-ass work they have done all semester. Everybody has the seed, we just have to nurture the seed daily with our passion and find the environment that helps us maximize our potential. If we do that every day, that is love for ourselves, we don’t have to wait for a special day to do something. Every day is your event, don’t just do it on your birthday or for an exam. Life is short.
I once received a story about a couple. For most of the year, one got abused on a regular basis, but for some reason, when it came time for their birthday, they got the biggest bouquet and the biggest treats. The question is, is there love in this relationship?
So when I teach, I say, I don’t want you to give me flowers on my birthday, I want you to give me love me every day.