Thursday, October 17, 2013

Inside American International School of Lagos

The school is an island on an island.  Surrounded on all sides by walls with rolled razor wire on top, the school sits on Victoria Island, part of the seamless sprawl of 20+ million people that is Lagos. Teachers live within the school walls in an apartment building actually attached to the school.

I began with a single poem for the elementary crowd and then joined Michael for an hour-long assembly for grades 6 through 12.  The kids were responsive and attentive, the faculty present and engaged.  Afterwards we heard from administrative types that there was some trepidation in advance.  Apparently we were performing on the scorched earth where a few other presenters had crashed and burned. But those speakers must not have been poets, because we were clearly before fans. Through the rest of the visit, Michael met with the upper school while I had a jaw dropping experience with the gradeschoolers.

AISL is truly an international school, with almost as many nationalities represented in each classroom as there are kids occupying the desks.  In advance of our visit Michael and I had emailed 60 poems to  for teachers to use in familiarizing the kids with our work.  One of the poems I sent was a poem about brothers that reads:


My brother is
a redwood,
wedged between my toes.

My brother is
a basketball,
jammed up in my nose.

My brother is
a scratchy coat
cut too small to fit.

My brother's
a mosquito
just begging to be hit.

My brother is
a chain saw,
that once started whines and roars.

My brother is
the chicken pox.
He cannot be ignored.

I mentioned in a foot note in the pack of poems that due to some oversight on my part, I had never written a poem about sisters and invited a student to help close that gap.  The collaboration by the two writers below has delightfully balanced this scale and is representative of a stack of poems we received in response to our advance poems.  Seems as if sibling friction is truly an international phenomena.

My Sister,

My sister is a boogie launched inside my nose,
My sister is a monster doll playing with my clothes.
My sister is a sneaky brat who always wants to join.
My sister is a little rat waiting to be shown.
My sister is a rotten egg waiting to be cracked.
My sister is a troll making me look fat.
But after all my sister, my little crabby sister,
she is not a monster now a troll.  
She is my little tiny sister and 
that's a fact.

And here is another, this one heavily illustrated by a team of artists who also took the suggestion to improve upon the poem if they choose, in this case adding cakes to the candy.  Why not?

Thank you Kay Riley and the library staff, Bick and Garth (and families), who hosted us for dinner at their apartments and for all the kindnesses and smiles of the students.  I will tell you straight up, the school was a lot more welcoming on the other side of that steel door and rolled wire fencing than it looks.  We were sad to say goodbye to our new friends in Lagos.

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