this thing called story (a teacher post)

Here's my next blog entry from my classroom - we're discussing story (!!!) in class and the importance of storytellers in society. Needless to say, I'm pretty excited. This specific post is the answer to a question I asked for the students' first blog post: What is storytelling to you? I had some incredible answers, and I would share them if it weren't for the whole "privacy" thing. Just kidding. I hope to have some kids guest post this year - or at least link to their blogs. You'd be amazed at what seniors in high school think about when you give them a chance at insight. What is this thing called story? From the beginning of time, people have created and spoken and passed on stories of our past in a desperate attempt to awaken something within the community. Ancient Greece used well-known mythological stories as backdrops to the Greek tragedies. For a short period of time, thousands would gather and take part in the religious act of emotional purging and catharsis. In the novel The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien mentions stories are "for joining past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story." To me, stories bring hope. Life can get pretty messy sometimes. For all of us, disappointment lurks in the corner waiting to make his appearance. Stories remind us of the good - of those who push through conflict despite the messiness around them. It may not always end with a bow tied neatly around a happy ending, but characters within stories are noble and fight for what they know is right. They are flawed - just like us - and even through mistakes make something beautiful. This is the hope. This past summer, sitting in a coffee shop in Nairobi, Kenya, I thought about how I would accurately tell the stories of those I met in Kibera. I wanted to return to school and let you guys know just how lucky you are to gain a free education. I wanted to make it clear that flushing toilets and central heat and air and the excess of paper, pens, books, pencils, markers, crayons...these things aren't guaranteed. I wanted to share about the two kids writing their numbers on a metal pole with chalk - only to lick the pole clean in order to start again. I wanted to share about Rose who is orphaned but finding a way to raise funds for school through her grandmother's business. I wanted to tell you of the poster hanging in the headmaster's office of what to do if you are raped... Why? ...because I needed to remind myself of hope. There's a fine line between experience and storytelling. I found it in Kibera. And sitting with these kids as they each shared with me their background and hopes and dreams, the dichotomy of my world and their world collided within my chest, creating a discord not easily removed. Coming home and sharing my experiences wasn't an option anymore. I needed to find the link between what I witnessed and what I hope for these kids. Walking down the dirt path lined with sewage holding the hand of Rose or Adah or David or Benjamin - I realized the grotesque beauty of storytelling. You may or may not be moved by what I say or the stories I share. But does it really matter? The thing about this fine line between experience and storytelling is that it's my experience - my story. It matters to me. It moves me. And in sharing it, I hope it moves you - but I know if it doesn't, it's okay. ....because  in sharing, I've reminded myself of hope. And late at night, when I'm trying to remember how I got from there to here, this is all I need to know.

Posted on September 6, 2010 and filed under africa, reagan2kibera, story.