Suzi's Blog

Day 12

My final day at school, I had no words only tears on my way into school. I knew it wouldn’t be the last time I would ever be there, but I certainly wasn’t ready to leave yet. Sandile and I decided it would be a good idea after all the issues with teachers, to create a programme telling the staff what these kids had accomplished in a short space of time. While handing them out it became evident that up until now, they didn’t really understand what the kids had been doing and therefore were reluctant to release them to us during school hours. When they found out they were all very excited and supportive. Another learning curve for me… Next time I will send a note round to all the teacher at the beginning of the project to make them aware of exactly what is happening.

All too quickly performance time rolled around and the kids were super excited. A famous musician had appeared to donate some toiletries to the school, so everyone was summoned to thank them. I have my thoughts on this but here is not the time to air them. Meanwhile I was sat on a classroom floor manically cutting out 100 rand notes for the show. Anyway, after that the kids rushed to get ready. I quickly realised the stage space they had left for us was far to small especially as there were scenes with stick fighting and the small ones were sat in the front row. I spoke to Njabulo and Sandile and they then went to sort something out for me, I was evidently a little stressed. The kids noticed that too and one boy Vusi came up and put his hands on my shoulders and told me that everything would be ok and not to worry. Small gestures like this make me love the school and these kids even more.

Vusi and Mpumi

We ended up performing in a small but more open and safe space outside the assembly quad. All the kids could hopefully still see, and it was the best choice in a small space.

I’m going to add a small video here as words cannot explain how amazing these kids were. They worked so hard and performed as though they were in a professional show in a theatre. I couldn’t have been prouder. As far as the project was concerned the space wasn’t great for filming but I think I managed to get some workable footage. If I am completely honest with myself at this point the importance of the project had taken a backseat and what was more important to me was the ability to show how hard these kids worked and how wonderful they are. They wanted to promote an aspect of their culture and they certainly did.

After the show Sandile and I were charged with being judges for the Mr and Miss valentine competition… Valentine’s day is so much more important in South Africa than in UK. It was fun to watch the kid’s catwalk in their best clothes while everyone in the school cheered them on. Through no fault of our own my favourite little lady, Nosipho, won junior miss valentine.

Nosipho, Junior Miss Valentine

It was almost time to say goodbye and I could feel my heart starting to break. Happy, the principle, called me up in front of the school and thanked me for “Always loving her children” They all cheered and unsurprisingly I cried. Then all the kids who had helped me in the last few weeks joined Sandile and I for cake and fizzy juice and a group photoshoot.

I’m not sure what my plans are after university, my only hope is that I can save enough money to head back to Mason Lincoln and show these wonderful young people the finished project and hopefully show them that everything they do is worthwhile.

Day 11

Its 8.37am as I write this. I’ve been up for 3 hours, attended assembly, talked with a kid who was cheeky with me yesterday and had a word with all my actors that didn’t turn up for morning rehearsal “They were hustling and washing their bodies”

Now I find out there is no water at all in the school and its already 24 degrees! It’s going to be an interesting day to say the least!

So, I realised a while later that the kids were “Hustling” this morning because they had no water. I don’t know why I didn’t put the two together. Anyway, they all turned up after school and while the boys were ready and eager to rehearse the girls had other ideas. Sandile spent time talking to them and eventually sent them to get changed so they would feel more comfortable. By this point I was so frustrated that I couldn’t speak or understand much Zulu I was ready to walk away too.

When the girls returned rehearsals got underway and much to my surprise and enjoyment everyone worked so hard to get it ready for tomorrow.

Day 10

Today was the day, we had decided we would hold rehearsals outside if it was too hot and get some filming done. I also wanted to do one or 2 more Kinect recordings and get photos of all the kids that have taken part. We knew in advance that the kids wouldn’t be able to come in the morning as their lessons stared at 7am. This was just for Wednesday’s and it was only later in the day we put two and two together and realised that they have early lessons because they all went off to do sports in the afternoon. This meant at 2.20pm after a day of doing very little we had no kids and nothing to do… again. Njabulo the driver had a meeting to attend to so we were waiting till around 5pm. It was a long hot frustrating day and the only thing that kept me going was the little ones coming in to visit. By the end of the day we had them painting and one wee girl fully cleaned the classroom.

I also took a trip up to see what the other kids were doing, many of them live in the school, and managed to get a game of “football” with a boy and his plastic bag football. This was so much easier to kick in bare feet than a real football and while I’m horrible at actual football I felt proud that I was able to at least get the football a few times… the boy was 8 years old!

After my sporting success we headed home for a quick shower and out to dinner at Amy’s who runs Humble coffee. Was lovely to catch up with her over a glass or 2 of red wine.

Day 9

After all the issues of the previous day we had arranges with the children that we would rehearse from 6.45am till 7.30am then 2.20pm till 4pm today. This made for a long day but worthwhile and the kids were happy to come before and after school to work on it. The morning session focussed on recording the girls movements which went as well as could be expected and the afternoon session on rehearsals. The rehearsals were chaotic but productive and we managed to film each scene. Tomorrows plan will be to try a complete run through with no stopping and discussing what’s happening next…. More than the boys the girls certainly like to discuss.

As we had time during the day Sandile worked on some of his art for me to bring home and I worked with some of the kids. One boy Lusuko, who has trouble talking and from what I can gather is a but of a handful in class has taken to coming to sit in the art room. I have been working with him on how to use the computer and his maths skills, at his request. He is much cleverer than anyone gives him credit for, me included. His understanding of English is much better than others his age here and he recognises patterns in maths. He is maybe around 10 years old. This again just highlights the need for a multitude of different approaches to education which I understand is near impossible. I can see that Mason Lincoln are trying though.

Lusuko

Another aspect of this is their skills class, going up to visit them we were promptly ushered into the salon after making a comment that Sandile wanted his hair cut. It was so professional looking, with hair stations and nail stations. While on of the students got to work cutting his hair one of the boys asked if I would like my nails done. Of course I said yes and the end product was lovely, it was also fun to see the other boys who would be learning to paint nails with no judgement, Thabiso, on of the boys, shouting over to me “What colour did you choose?” purple was my reply and I asked him about his colour choice “ Red, for valentines day!” as he flashed me a hand of beautifully painted red nails!

Sandile getting his hair cut

There are so many prejudice’s here so its lovely that the staff and students have created a safe space for kids to learn new things and be happy.

Day 8

Today was a frustrating one. While the morning went well the afternoon did not. In the morning we managed to get hold of some guys from the acting group and they one by on recorded some of their parts using the motion capture system. When I ran this data through the software it was mostly fine though a lot of it showed that I was not capturing the legs properly for some reason I still am not sure. Overall I was happy with the data and while a lot of it will need tidied up I was aware that was going to be the case.

We had been told that we could have all the actors after break today, I was so pleased so we could do come more motion capture and rehearse. The children turned up on time and were just about to get started when the maths teacher came and promptly asked them to return to class. We were left with no one. Sandile went to speak to the teacher to ask if we could have some of the girls, one by one for 5 mins at a time to record some data but he wasn’t happy about this either. Its frustrating for me that many people here don’t understand the benefits of learning about computers and how to be creative with them. Its also hard when I know how much the kids want to help me and take part.

Luckily a few guys from the skills class came down and did some more artworks for me, mostly they not just need some colour and they will be completed.

I realise more and more each day the scale of the project I have taken on and am trying hard to still my mind and focus on the targets I have, anything else is a bonus. I also realise how ill equipped these young people are for a life in the digital age. I think this will be the start of something I come back to when I visit Mason Lincoln. Speaking with Sandile he agrees, and we have been slowly but surely working on a proposal for the school so he can go in and do both basic computer skills with them as well as some more creative stuff.

Day 7

As all Sundays should be the morning was slow. I got a little bit of admin done and managed to upload some more of these diary posts. As it was so sunny, we stayed in today just working on both this project and Sandile did some art for another Napier students Honours project that I would take back with me. Today was desperately needed, with the heat I haven’t slept much so being at home was nice. The internet access here however is not. As I write this I am trying to re-download iPi studio which using the wifi will take 3 days for a 31mb file. I changed tactics though and went with using my south African mobile data to download and that seems to be working ever so slightly faster.  Finally, it downloaded all ready for the morning at school

Day 6

In previous years a Saturday morning meant a trip to Lower Illovo, around a 30 min drive, to the tree of Empowerment. This large tree on the side of a road is a place that the kids who have needed to use the services of a charity called Bobbi Bear, that deals with children who have been raped ad abused, come to be kids again, we play and they get food and sometimes if they have donations they each get a toy to take home. Today was not going to be one of those days, after the heavy rains the children know not to come to the tree as some of them must cross a river to get there and after the rains in previous years some of the children have been swept away and lost their lives. They do send a councillor to sit by the tree for a while in case children need their help in this situation.

We decided to go for breakfast at Humble Coffee which is run by a lady from Edinburgh. Then we went and met Sindi, who took over running the Saturday tree from her mum, Jackie. It was lovely to catch up with her and hear that the children in their care are doing as well as can be expected.

After we took a trip to Sandile’s house in Ndwedwe, a rural area about an hour outside Durban as he had some artworks of his late mums to take home after a recent exhibition he set up in her memory.

While the overall plan was to work on the project today to make sure everything was set up for Monday this didn’t quite happen, instead the plan is to spend tomorrow morning working then take the afternoon to walk around and continue to work on my photography series.

Day 5

Friday in school is a shorter day, they finish at 1.30 instead of 2.30 which meant even more pressure. To add to this our car battery died halfway up a hill in the middle of rush hour in Umlazi Township and it was raining, not drizzle but the tropical heavy rain you can sometimes get at this time of year. Sandile and I jumped out the car and tried to get I up the hill to turn it round to hopefully jump start it on the way down. This failed miserably and we ended up at the bottom of the hill with people passing by, no help offered. Finally some nice man came and helped us push it round the corner at the bottom of the hill and along flatter ground till it eventually started. Some of the actors and artists appeared around 10 and began blocking out the scenes explaining to me what they had been working on yesterday and the ideas they wanted to try out. Once the actors got over a small amount of stage fright you could see how excited they were to be part of the project. There were three guys in particular that were really interested in the camera I was using to film the rehearsals with so I took some time to show them how it worked and from then on their job if they were not on stage was to film. Interestingly the ones who wanted to use the camera were partially sighted, it made me consider that by using the camera and looking on the screen they could now fully see what was happening in front of them which I was really pleased to see.

At the end of week 1 of school the children have managed to write the full story and rehearse most of it all while appeasing their other teachers and attending classes. Their motivation for this project continues to astound me and while the language barrier is a struggle for me sometimes, they take it in their stride and with broken English explain to me what is happening. I could have dreamt that this project would be as engaging as it is, this is partially if not wholly down to Sandile who quickly realised my vision and explained it to the young people in a way they understood and got them engaged.

Plans for next week are to complete the rehearsals, pick one dancer, at least if time permits I want to pick more, to film using the Kinect. I also want to film a full run through using both cameras so I have multiple angles. The artists need to complete their artwork, most of which either needs colours or painted, its up to them. Then, at the end of the week the young people will perform their piece for the whole school.  Again, this will be filmed and if I can get a projector the backgrounds may be projected onto the wall behind the students while they act. I feel like this is a lot to achieve but looking back through the past week I feel confident that we are at the half way mark and it is more than possible to complete.

Day 4

Today we took a day off and Njabulo (a different guy who was driving us) took us to his school and then to Chatsworth Stadium where his school were competing in a regional athletics competition. It was another super-hot day but luckily the stadium had some shade, so we based ourselves there. While it was nice to have a day doing something different Sandile and I did spend a lot of time formulating plans for the next day at school to make sure I could complete everything on time. It was great to get some time to do some photography which I love to do, especially portraits so this was the perfect opportunity. I was invited onto the track to take photos of the kids and I was so pleased with the outcome, but it did mean that even though I used strong sun cream I still got very burnt.

Day 3

I met with Njabulo this morning to talk about the progress of the project and next steps. He seemed pleased with the children’s work though I always tell him he has such as serious face I can never really tell.

I am very set on making sure this production is written by and is for the young people. They have produced a short play based around a traditional ceremony that celebrates girls that have remained virgins till the age of 21. By adult standard it is written very simply but I believe this is the beauty of this project. It does not need to be complicated.

Around 10 Sandile and I decided to go and work in the school’s computer room in the hope we could get access to the internet. While we realised this wasn’t possible, we did find the only properly air conditioned room in the school as seeing as it was over 30 degrees and only going to get warmer this was a complete blessing.

The afternoon didn’t go to plan, the artists and the actors for the project did come to see me but were promptly called back by their teachers leaving just 3 male actors. I feel as though this is common practice as many teachers believe solely on the value of academic education and not in that of technological or creative education here. So, as a backup plan we used the stop motion animation kit to get the kids to write a story and create it. They were so engaged, taking photos on their phone of all the activity. Unfortunately, due to the extreme temperatures my laptop over heated and they were unable to see the finished project. I hope to sort this for them over the next few days.

Day 2

Yet again another bleary-eyed start to make sure we got to the school on time. My feet are still swollen so I think I was probably the slow one this morning. When we arrived at school there was just enough time for breakfast before the first class, again it was a skills class, TO1, who came. There was only 3 of them and Njabulo asked if there was anything, I would like to do with them. I had found a simple stop motion animation kit in a charity shop back in Edinburgh so decided this would be the perfect group to let them experiment with it. As much of my explanations in the school it was backed up by Zulu translation to make sure the young people understood what was being asked of them. They picked it up so quickly and soon I could walk away leaving my camera for them to use. They created a short sequence whereby a small monster walked outside his house and saw a bigger monster, and this made him scared. After I created a sequence for them on aftereffects they loved it and were laughing and discussing what they would do next if they had the time. It really makes the trip worth it for me when I can spar a child’s imagination in the field of animation of creativity in general.

Again, in the afternoon the writers came. We sat together and they explained the story they wanted to tell. Their next steps were to create character sheets for the actors and write a scene plan. Originally, I wanted them to write a script but after some time to reflect I thought this was too big a task for both the writers and the actors in the time I had here. Therefore, the actors will use the scene plan to improvise their script, practice this then it will be recorded.

Day 1

As is the African way the morning was early (7am start at the school) and the work was slow to start. Njabulo, the art teacher at Mason Lincoln who had kindly organised this had his own class first thing, they were learning about tone. This skills class “TO4” were a new class formed with new children and those who had just completed their formal learning. A class of around 8 students all with various disabilities all worked on the same project learning how to use a pencil and coloured crayons to create a tone scale.

In the afternoon I met the students that I would be working with throughout the project. There was around 15 that would be split into 3 groups, actors, writers and artists. Each with their own brief. After a quick brainstorming session on what they believed their culture was and how these things were important it was time for the actors and artists to head back to class.

The writers that stayed behind got to work quickly looking at the mind maps that were created and choosing an aspect of their culture they wanted to write about. They decided on a traditional ceremony that takes place if a girl is still a virgin by the age of 21. As a Scottish person this type of ceremony shocked me, but these young people spoke openly and candidly about it, and for this I commend them. They then went on to fill out a basic sheet that looked at what would happen in their story, beginning, middle and end. I felt this was the best way to get them started in writing as the education system in schools focus a lot on wrote learning and therefore their creative skills in this field need to be drawn out slowly. It was lovely to watch them work as they clearly engaged with such a creative task that they got to choose themselves. I spent some time at the end of the day explaining what would be happening tomorrow and for the rest of the project then it was the end of the school day.

A friend of mine, Sandile who is an artist and designer came to join me at the end of the day and will be part of helping facilitate this project throughout the next 2 weeks.

Travels.

Edinburgh to London, London to Johannesburg – this was the first leg of the trip. Although I had done this before I had forgotten how exhausting travelling was. I met up with my brother, Nathi and his fiancé, Lungi, in Johannesburg as I had decided to stay the night. We had planned to go to Soweto so I could see Nelson Mandela’s house and the street that all the artists have studios on. This didn’t happen as I was still very tired from the travelling, I had very badly swollen feet and ankles that were painful and Nathi had just finished a long night shift with little sleep so we decided to go and have some wine and dinner in this nice area. The food as always was amazing, and it was so nice to catch up with Nathi and Lungi. While they are not my family by blood, I call them my family because we have that relationship, we will always be there for one another. In August we lost our mother, Mah, who was the most amazing human you could ever meet, this was the first time Nathi and I had seen each other as it was impossible for me to fly over to attend the funeral. I think this was a healing experience for us both, I know it was for me. It was lovely to see that while he was still grieving, he was staying on the right path and working through it.

After a night of relative rest, it was time to fly on to Durban, my home away from home and the place where I would be creating my project. It has been years since I have been here in the summer, I had forgotten how hot and humid it was. This did no favours for my swollen ankles and after a quick trip to the shops it was time to put my feet up, literally, and hope they would improve by morning.

Pictures will come soon, wifi is a bit sketchy here!

Pre – trip planning

To be able to realise this project planning it as thoroughly as possible was necessary. I contacted the school in November and they were more than happy to work with me. Upon returning to university in January I was again in contact with the school. They are now in discussion with the relevant heads of departments to see when I can take the students from class to run the workshops needed for them to be able to write and design an animation. However, if this is not possible there is scope for me to work within their timetabled art class and after school as many of the students live on campus.

With regards to the technical aspect of the project this has been more complex. I plan to use an Xbox Kinect to record the motion capture data that will then be exported to an animation package. Unfortunately to date I have struggled to get the appropriate software installed and working on my laptop. The final decision was that the software would be downloaded onto my desktop for a trial then moved to my laptop in time for the trip. Also as a back up plan I will video all the movements that can then be motion tracked and applied to the animation.

24/01/2020

This is my first test run using the Kinect. After realising the system I had did not work I was offered another Kinect by the university for the duration of the trip. As you might notice there are issues with this capture and it would need cleaned up and keyframed to be usable within an animation but I am pleased with the first try.

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