It is often when you are away from home, in another context that you find yourself reflecting on what it is you do at home. Today I have been thinking about the cultural offer we make to children. How do we bring children to diverse cultural experiences that they might not participate in, that might be of a different culture and how do we do that sensitively, without superficiality whilst maintaining that we are connected to each other?
Yesterday evening I visited a wonderful exhibition of Marionettes at the French Cultural Institute. www.institutfrancai-senegal.com Beside this exhibition of puppetry was a children’s atelier, a workshop for making puppets. Side by the side, the exhibition and children’s workshop co-existed with handcrafted marionettes alongside those being crafted in a maker space of and for children. It was a great space to construct and express ideas about performance, expression, stories and imagination and a great example of meaningful cultural engagement and participation.
It got me thinking about celebrations, cultural events and traditions and how easy this is to simply ‘tick off’ against a list every time you acknowledge something, and to do so in very superficial ways. We might bring into our schools and places of education someone like a puppeteer merely as an entertainer or go the museum for an ‘experience’ , or visit the ballet, just to go and see something not usually encountered before. But I find myself reflecting on these experiences and asking is this true participation? Is having having a go, or just seeing something enough? Does it really count as cultural engagement? I am not suggesting we don’t, as for many children access to such opportunities is rare, but how can we make it more than a go and see? How do we develop an encounter into something that is more about an exchange?
I suppose I worry about superficiality always, life seems much more complex and should be treated so. Reading Gregory Bateson too my mind is filled with ideas of connecting rather than separating into different categories of ‘me, ‘us’ and ‘other’. His question to students was often to ask how such things as a crab, lobster, primrose, orchid, me, you, an amoeba in one direction and in another direction a person suffering from schizophrenia all connected?
Being in another country, another continent such as Africa really challenges assumptions about what is important in life. I was struck when listening to a Russian Cosmonaut once talk about his experiences of being on the International Space Station, and of how he looked upon the Earth for the first time. He said the new perspective of seeing Earth in its entirety made him think about how he was a global citizen, of how home was Earth and not just a sum of separate parts. He saw Earth as a place of no boundaries just differing geographies. Truly engaging in our cultural and geographic diversity is one thing – ticking it off on a list of things that are good for us to do is only going to separate us more and consider the other as ‘Other”. Yet also, how do we share our own patterns with each other in meaningful ways that connect us rather than keep us separate.
As I walk about this country Senegal, this city called Dakar, I will try to look for similarities and connections, rather than differences and separations.
An example of this is the combined cemetery that has both a Muslim and Catholic burial ground that is shared. Along Senegal’s Petit Cote lies an island completely man-made, yet sustainably developed, the Island of Fadiouth (Shell Island) is an example of human development using locally harvested resources. Created over 300 years, Fadiouth rose out of the Sine-Saloum Delta as an island created by discarded mollusk shells. Today, Fadiouth’s unique geology has pushed it to become a centre of marine conservation as well as religious tolerance. Mollusk shells have become the site of the only cemetery in Senegal with Christian, Muslim and Animist graves.
Coexistence is a beautiful thing. Everything is in relationship.