If you’ve been keeping up with our blog or our carefully curated Instagram stories, you know all about our adventures. From dancing until sundown in Kashoba to nearly getting trampled by elephants in Kruger, the VAGH nine have had an especially eventful week. At our last meal in our beloved Shishangeni, Jonathan jokingly asked us if we were excited to return to real life. Reluctant to resume our classwork, we responded unenthusiastically with a couple of sad woohoo’s and for sure’s. We’ve been spoiled in our time abroad with amazing excursions and brilliant cultural experiences, but when it comes down to it, we are, in fact, taking a class.
(I know, we forgot too.)
Our real life consists of weekly assignments and global health classes we have to do mental math in; conference calls with organizational partners and a myriad of email chains to respond to; card games I still don’t know the rules to and 10 pm bedtimes. This week, we’ve been tasked with developing our interviewing skills by practicing on one another, probing for interesting enough stories to film and edit into a short video submitted for a grade. As I write this blog, Wanjiku and Helen are recording their interviews while Megan is preparing a pseudo-script so Lucy is more comfortable when on camera. Everyone else is out in Manzini, also preparing for an interview, but their preparation will instead culminate in a video for the CDC. By the end of our time in southern Africa, one group will have completed a few short videos about the impact of HIV and TB in Eswatini and my group will have completed a short film about the future of healthcare if universal health coverage is achieved in partnership with the CDC and a non-profit called PATH, respectively.
In the past two weeks, my group has run into difficulties with finding both actors and locations for our film, so this week is crucial in ensuring the creation of the video we originally envisioned. We’ve Facebook messaged acting groups and WhatsApp’ed our old kambi driver and even asked our favorite waitress if she’d ever considered acting (she had not). We’ve sent emails and left voicemails and asked for directions after unsuccessfully trying to Google Maps our way to clinics in pursuit of permission to use their grounds for filming. By the end of week two, no progress had been made in the production of an actual video. We had a concept, we had approval, but everything was still entirely abstract. So for us, coming back to Mbabane and picking up where we left off in our work just didn’t seem all that appealing. But last night, a casual reminder of the impending deadline and news that our classmates with the CDC would be finished filming soon brutally brought us back to reality. We have a LOT to do.
Today, Lucy and I walked 5.5 miles (I checked my Fitbit, I’m not kidding) to, from, and around Mbabane playing the roles of location scouts and casting directors. Wanjiku, Helen, and Megan stayed back to organize props and start creating video montages to be used in our final film. We walked to the clinic again hoping to have a face-to-face meeting with management and attempt to find nearby roads and paths for other filming locations. We didn’t have much success at the clinic, but were more fortunate with the other half of our scouting escapade and found multiple quiet roads and winding paths we will be able to use. We had identified analogous locations near the Manzini clinic, so we now have contingency plans for both.
We also met up with an old contact of Jonathan’s to try to find actors. After circling the big mall in downtown Mbabane a couple of times, we finally ran into Nicholas in all of his exuberant splendor. We sat for some coffee and he excitedly explained his role as a “godfather” of Swaziland’s theater community. He previously directed the People’s Education Theater, which was a group of actors and actresses who were committed to using theater as a means of education about primarily health-related crises, including HIV/AIDS in the country. You can read a bit more about the group here, but Nicholas explained they are no longer functional due to loss of funding to sustain their work. Currently, he works with Clowns Without Borders as well as a community theatre troupe to spread the joy of acting, clownery, and more broadly, artistic expression to schools around Swaziland.
When it was our turn to introduce ourselves, Lucy and I recited our little spiel for the video concept (we’re really good at it now) and asked rather vaguely about where he could direct us to find actors. Immediately upon hearing the idea for our video, Nicholas started thinking of possible actors and actresses he knew to get involved in our project. I don’t think I’ve ever been more relieved than the moment he uttered the words “Easy. I can do that.” We were thrilled that something finally went right, but even more so, incredibly happy to hear his excitement and support for the project. His past experiences have shaped his passion for promoting health and general well-being and his connections in theater made him the perfect person for us to have met with. Nicholas even offered to have his young daughter as one of our actresses which Lucy and I happily accepted, exchanging large grins.
After quite a few setbacks and calls with countless PATH officials and honestly, slight jealously of our other classmates’ fast progress with this project, meeting Nicholas was an absolute win for us. He was everything we could’ve wished for and more – funny, passionate, a founder of the theater community in Swaziland, and so incredibly kind. We stayed to chat about all the places his work has taken him and his family and Swaziland culture for another hour before parting ways. We’ve been keeping up communication with him since our meeting and have planned to meet up again next week to speak with the actors he is doing us the incredible favor of finding for the film.
I think amidst our adventures outside of class and our difficulties in class, it has been easy for us to forget about the importance of the work we’re doing. This final project isn’t just going to be a random movie we slap together for a decent grade. All of this hard work is going to become something. Something meaningful and something worth being proud of and definitely the coolest homework assignment I’ve ever worked on. Last week, Paul and Jonathan suggested we take inventory every day of the tasks we’ve accomplished to keep us honest with ourselves about our progress. Today, we found a pretty path, found video clips to edit, and met with a contact to talk about potential actors. Upon itemization, I know it doesn’t sound like a lot. But today was rejuvenating and my group finally made leeway in the actual creation of a final video. This project is going to happen and it’s going to be awesome and I’m so freaking excited. So yes, this is our real life for the next three weeks; this is the mundane schoolwork that we were complaining about. Bring it on.