Oh the Life I Lead!

30 Jul

Tomorrow is my last day in DC! I can’t believe it. The three months that I have been here have flown by. Sometimes people in similar situations feel like – I just got here! How am I leaving already? – but I don’t. Rather, I feel as though I’ve lived here forever and I’m leaving behind a second family. My boss has welcomed me not only into her work, but also into her life. I’ve had the opportunity to meet (and sometimes play with) many of her friends, people who for her are like family here. I never thought I would love my work so much, but I do!

Every week I’ve been here has been different from the last, but there is a general pattern to how my life looks. Most days I work independently, doing admin stuff for YWDEP or working on grant writing.

Kristen leading a workshop

Twice a week I go to the actual YWDEP workshops, on Thursday evenings and for most of Saturday. I’ve gotten to know the girls really well, there are about 12 of them and each one has a unique personality and skill; it’s been cool seeing them open up more to us and one another. On Thursdays we focus on drumming and on Saturdays we split our time between drumming and whoever our guest artist is for that day. We’ve had workshops on performance theatre, beatboxing, poetry writing, African and hip hop dance.

leading my first workshop

I don’t really know much about any of those fields, so I was learning right along with the girls. The drumming is of course my favourite part, and a couple times I’ve had the opportunity to actually lead those sessions! The first time I was really nervous, but everything turned out fine. My boss is really good at her job, and clearly observing her at workshops helped me learn a lot not only about drumming but also about teaching.

The first month I was here, in addition to the YWDEP sessions I accompanied my boss on several weekly drumming workshops, which was interesting because each group of people was different, from girl scouts to middle aged women. The second month was really intense, filled with rehearsals and performances.

Akoma rehearsal

I’m so grateful to have been allowed into the Akoma Drummers and the Bele Bele Rhythm Collective, the two traditional ensembles my boss leads. Along with the Akoma drummers, I’ve played everywhere, from a Farmer’s Market to a weekend event called Yoga on the Mall. Along with the Bele Bele women, I prepared for a big performance in Montgomery County (MD). We were featured as part of the concert series held by a community there. Being in Bele Bele was an incredible experience, every member is female and brings something different to our dynamic. Rehearsals were a lot of fun and the grand finale, our performance, went really well. I got to play two paint buckets! Hahaha I had a blast that day.

I’ve learned so much about drumming since I’ve been here. The kinds of drums my boss plays are not at all like the ones I learned on in Ghana (well except for one, but they play it differently). Mainly, I played the dununs, these double-headed drums that come in three sizes, small = kenkeni, medium = sangban and large = dununba, they go in stands and you hit them with sticks. I learned a bit about the djembe too, which is what most people want to learn. It’s a bright sounding drum with a goatskin head, and is the most popular West African drum. Actually probably the most popular/well known African drum. I love the way it sounds and wish I got to play it more, but my skills were needed on the dununs. Drumming is more than physical activity, it’s also an intellectual exercise; especially with traditional African ensembles, which utilise polyrhythms, making it more difficult to find the “1” and stay on the beat. I’ve enjoyed stretching my mind trying to find out where my rhythm fits in with everyone else’s, and comparing Guinean and Malinke forms of playing with the Ghanaian ones I learned in the fall. One of the Akoma drummers plays the congos, and I’m itching to start playing those. I absolutely love how they sound, if they were a food I imagine I would describe the taste as nutty, mmm, I love nuts! Hahaha. Anyways, I’m off to YWDEP! I have to hurry or I’ll be late ;)

jamming outside the Columbia Heights Metro


One Response to “Oh the Life I Lead!”

  1. maria July 30, 2010 at 3:20 am #

    Wahhh, your DC adventure is about to come to a close. Isn’t it crazy how quickly time passes? I’m so happy your time there has been so amazing that you can call them your second family. That’s the best measurement of a fulfilling summer. Thanks for sharing your experiences – culinary and cultural. I’ve loved reading them and I hope they continue :)

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