April 4, 2013
“Mrs. Zornow, how many students are in art club? How many students can fit on the bus? Will we all fit?”
“Mrs. Zornow, I had a dream last night that the bus left me behind so I woke up at 3:00 a.m.”
The students had been nervously looking forward to the art club trip since I announced it. They all brought back permission slips, attended the meeting where I listed all the ways not to behave, and made sure they had all their art projects finished.
It was time to take a literal trip of their lifetimes.
The morning of, we headed out only a bit behind schedule from waiting for the bus to show up and then waiting for the last students to arrive. When it looked like one 7th grade student was not coming, we pulled out of the school. The students started waving out the windows at anyone they could find and yelling excitedly.
15 minutes later, we got a phone call from the principal—the 7th grader, Ntombifuthi, arrived late and they were rushing in the principal’s car to meet us. We pulled over and waited, hoping she would arrive quickly. We finally saw the principal’s erratic driving from the bottom of a hill and knew she was on her way. She sprinted from his car to ours and we were off again.
It was an hour’s drive to our first destination, but there was plenty of sightseeing. The students were constantly checking out road construction, cars, shops, cows. One of the chaperones announced when we drove through the a regional capital and everyone’s face was instantly glued to the windows.
We finally arrived at Yebo!, an art center in Swaziland, where we would be getting a tour, talking with artists, and making an art project.
The Yebo! Staff was ready to meet us and ushered the kids into their newly built facilities. The students started pointing out sculptures and mosaics with big eyes as if they couldn’t believe this place was still in Swaziland.
We went into the gallery room and were given final introductions and then told to look around for a few minutes to take in all of the art. It was an exciting moment. This was the first time any of them were seeing Art. They walked around, looking interested but bemused at some of the pieces. “Why is a photograph of King Sobhuza here” (Referring to a sculpture)? “This is made out of paper? Haibo!”
We collected the kids again and had them sit down. We were introduced to two local artists, both painters, and the gallery owner, also an artist. The Swazi artists were able to tell the students about their work, how they became an artist, and stressed the importance of practicing to get better. The student’s actually asked questions, something I am always trying to get them to do but they always say that they don’t have any, so it was a good breakthrough. Then we went to a small room housing the collection of a Swazi fashion designer. Necklaces, leather purses, high, high, high heels; the students were thrilled to find out it had all been made in Swaziland. The fashion designer was able to show the kids his mood board, talk about how he made some of his work, and even let one of our students model a jacket he made. This was all I wanted for the students and more—it showed the students some of the careers in the art world and let them meet people who had made their dreams come true.
After we finished our tour, our group was lead to a big outdoor space to do our art project. I had told the kids that we were going to make an artwork on a t-shirt, but the idea was a little bit vague for them. Once they saw the white t-shirts laid out and the art supplies, they started to get the idea. Yebo! first took everyone’s photograph. Then we sat down and began making a stencil of our names. We wrote out our names in block letter and then used an exacto-knife to carefully cut the letters out. Around the time we finished, print outs of our pictures were ready. Our headshots were printed in black and white so we took our knives and cut out all the pieces that were black, leaving a face shaped hole on our papers. The staff helped everyone screen print their faces and names on to their t-shirt. By the time we saw the finished product, everyone was feeling like a fashion designer and artist extraordinaire.
After saying goodbye, and taking pictures with some of the artworks, we got back on the bus and I handed out the bag lunches and we settled into the drive to our next stop.
For a while, everyone was happy. And then suddenly it was clear something was wrong, it was getting quiet. I felt a tap on my shoulder and Nomphumelelo was making a horrid but painfully clear gesture that she was about to vomit. We pulled over and a teacher asked her if she drove in cars often. She said this was the second time she had ridden in a car in her life and the previous experience had only been for a few kilometers on our dirt road. I gave her a some pepto from the med kit and a plastic bag.
A few minutes later, I was handing out more plastic bags. Even for those who had ridden in a car a few times, this was the longest trip they had ever taken and, as we began ascending into the high-veld and left the tar road, just about everyone was feeling it, including me. We drove past Maguga Dam, antelope, and stone carvings, but only a few were able to lift their heads off their laps to take in the sights.
After arriving at the rock art site, we stumbled out of the bus and I was greeted by the bus driver with the news every teacher dreads hearing on a field trip, “Some kid threw up in the car.” And he made it clear that he wasn’t cleaning it up. My stomach really started turning as I checked the spot and got a whiff of it. I thrust my bag at Oliver and told him he had to take care of paying and getting to the rock art site with the tour guide. I checked on a few kids lying on the grass and managed to get them up and going to the rock art with promises that they would feel better soon.
The students and chaperones hiked their way down a hill to see a rock art site where the bushmen used to perform rain ceremonies. I had visited it over a year ago with my mother and would have loved to see the art work again. But, instead, I opened up my medical kit, put on plastic gloves, set out a bag, got my small packet of tissues out and began to clean up the vomit that had made its way across three rows of seats. I ended up getting sick myself and then sat on a rock for a while with my head in my lap.
Oliver came bounding back with good news about the rock art tour. I handed out the kids’ notebooks so they could write down what they learned and told everyone that it was not cool to throw up on the bus floor and passed out plenty of bags and warnings. And then we got back on the somewhat clean bus.
The only thing left to do was drive home. One girl kept throwing up and we got pulled over by the police for 45 minutes, but other than that the kids were in super high spirits. Even the most reserved students were hyper. The girl who had been sick started to feel better and kept up a constant narration for me of where we were driving as she began to recognize sites in our neighboring community. The students begged us to prolong the trip. They all began singing and the now grumpy bus driver had to tell them to sit down and to not sing so loudly. It was really loud but I couldn’t help but smile and think of what an amazing day it was for them.
The trip is now over, but the art club still has work to do this term. The grant Oliver and I wrote specified that the students have to present to their peers on what they learned and lead an art project to widen the number of students impacted by the arts, also giving the club members a great opportunity to practice their leadership and presentation skills.
After school today, we all met. Oliver took half to choose photographs for a power point presentation and I took half to get the materials ready for the art project. I’ve seen these 16 students growing all term, but, suddenly, there’s been a leap. The students have always enjoyed art club, but have shied away from presenting even in front of other members of the art club. But today, when I told them what we were doing, I didn’t get a single sigh or complaint. Instead the students got right to work, practicing what they would say to their peers and being excited at the prospect of being able to share with others what they learned. I am so proud of my kids.
We’ll post pictures when we go to town next.
Rebecca is Currently Reading: Nothing, I’ve been so busy getting ready for the art club trip. But now it’s time to find a nice, long book and relax.
We are Currently Watching: Mad Man, Season 2