The drama workshops for the salt pan children are part entertainment, part educational. This is due to the children having very little schooling, and similar to other isolated children that I have worked with, they are incredibly shy. So persuading them to perform in front of others can be a little bit tricky at times.
They enjoy watching me perform and as an audience they are a joy to perform for.
However, it takes Tariq, the local teacher, who has performed with me and loves it, to urge them to give it a go. They perform a simple “falling a sleep on someone’s shoulder” routine and the few who got up were terrific.
The main purpose of these workshops was to find out more about their everyday lives. As they remembered the mime from previous workshops,this was an easy and useful way to show us what they do. On our visit in February we saw them harvesting the salt. Men filling baskets that women carried on their heads for a few metres, before passing it to another woman, who carried it further before piling it high in ever growing salt hills. Here it waited for the trucks to come and take the salt to the markets.
As all this work was mainly done by adults, they got involved in showing us, through mime, how it all happens. This always brings much laughter amongst the children helping them lose their inhibitions.
They then showed us how they remake the salt pans each year, which involves compressing the soil, by walking, with feet spread apart, step-by-step along the salt pans. It looked a little like a Charlie Chaplin walk, but in this context not as funny.
They then showed us how they cooked, including making the chapatis and dhal. It was wonderful to see people recognise their daily activities in a theatrical context and view it with plenty of laughter and comment. The grandmother of one of the families was the leader when it came to miming making chapatis. She, of course, had been cooking chapatis all her life and was determined show me how it was done correctly. She was a natural performer.
All this was a good introduction to the concertina books that followed.