Tuesday 26th November 2013
Yesterday I had to choose between going to the museum and going to watch my friend perform some of his poems at a primary school. I choose the latter as the museum will always be there for another day, and school is still very much in my blood since my Cameroon experience.
It was difficult not to make comparisons. Here was a proper building with a fully functioning staff team, and children who know the resources they need for their education will be there. Basic resources like books, paper, pencils, and rubbers.
Ellerton Primary School, in the parish of St George, had planned an outdoor assembly as part of the island’s 47th independence celebrations. When we arrived the stage was set. Microphones and speakers were in place but I noticed there was no seating under the two large gazebos.
This was because the children brought their chairs with them from their classrooms, even the infant children travelled with their much smaller versions. There was order to the arrival and to the taking up of places form by form. I was given a programme for the assembly which was to last for an hour and a half.
It appeared to me, as I sat framed by swaying palms, marvelling at the idyllic setting, that everything had been meticulously planned.
What the school could not control, however, was the weather. As the last form was being seated the heavens opened and poured it heavy and copious blessings down on our small gazebos.
I was impressed by the pragmatic way both staff and children responded to this unexpected event. I say unexpected, but I guess rain is never totally unexpected in the Caribbean. Large umbrellas materialised from somewhere, and some of the older girls who were sitting at the back with me used them to ward off the first sprinklings. They gave up however when the umbrellas became ineffective against the torrent. Those of us on the edges had to move to the centre. The speakers were hastily covered, and the PA system moved to safety.
Although the shower did not last long, it was heavy enough to create reservoirs of water in the plastic above our heads, and the handyman had to be brought in to disgorge it before we could begin.
I mention all of this because of the way both staff and children handled the situation. It was clearly something that had happened before, and no doubt will happen again, and there was a calm and acceptance that they did the best they could to keep everyone dry until they could proceed.
Although we were twenty five minutes late beginning it was certainly worth the wait. The assembly began, as do most things in the Caribbean, with prayers. This was followed by the raising of the flag, ably accomplished by the Brownies, and the singing of the national anthem. An infant pupil recited the national pledge before the principal stepped forward to make her address.
Next on the programme was my friend Kemmerick who is a retired teacher and poet. He’d been asked to perform some of his independence related material and was just being introduced when the heavens opened again. Thankfully not as heavily, and not for as long.
Despite this second disruption – where one class had to take their chairs and run back inside because there was simply insufficient room for them under the gazebo – the assembly continued.
Kemmerick’s performance was received with interest and much laughter. This was followed by a parade of Barbadian characters from across all the forms. It was delightful to see the costumes and to learn something of Barbadian history through the characters.
Again I was reminded of our common history with Africa when two of the characters represented street vendors who carried their wares on their heads, a practice still current in many parts of Africa. (See video of Bamenda bus station)
The parade was followed by a medley of Barbadian independence songs where the children were encouraged to demonstrate pride in their country. The atmosphere was so exciting that I found myself waving my hand and singing ‘I am a Bajan’ along with everyone else.
After the closing prayer the children once again filed back to their classrooms – and amazingly they did not run over the hour and a half.
I feel privileged to have been allowed to share in this event.