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The Yak Pack News #13 - The last hurrah!

By late afternoon on Friday 29th July we were all back in Kaza and oh boy did we sleep well after 8 days of very simple living in the high villages! The beds felt unbelievably soft, and we appreciated every mouthful of food that was something other than dahl and rice. We peeped in the shop windows like children, excited by the bustle of people and chatter on the streets. The dogs of Kaza howled and barked furiously at each other all night long and we didn’t care. Kaza feels like home.

Our very last performance is on Saturday afternoon, in Café Zomsa in the centre of Kaza. It’s a large open plan café, and its owner Kitty is happy to let us rearrange all the tables and chairs and turn it into a theatre for the afternoon. It looked great when set up ready, with mats and cushions laid out for the first few rows, with chairs behind.

The audience gathered, Miss Jo bringing a handful of children early to join the workshops with us. Most of the kids were from the surrounding villages and had been in Kaza for a week of summer school, swotting up for the equivalent of the 11+, trying to bag one of the 40 places at the newly opened selective state secondary school. Kids here work so hard at school, attending on Saturdays too and often having after school tuition. I’m so happy to see them enjoying themselves at our performances, practicing English in an informal and playful way, being imaginative and creative making props, sharing the stage with us and experiencing that wonderful buzz of performing together.

It’s a small but very lovely audience of around 25, with local kids and their families, some Indian tourists, passers-by, and some of our close friends in Kaza. As the show drew to its usual ‘everyone up for a dance’ conclusion for the last time, Ollie dragged the usually dance-shy Kaku onto stage as well. As we packed up for the last time, the children posed in the costumes.

After turning Zomsa back into a café, we felt that satisfied sadness that comes at the end of a run of performances, knowing that the moment is passing.

The next day we visited Miss Jo at Spiti Childrens Room, where she runs a childrens club after school and on Sundays. It’s a truly inspirational place where children can learn through play in a way they never get the chance to at school. There are books, paints, games, playdough, dressing up, den-making. The children flow freely around the space, collaborating, inventing, letting their imaginations run free. Miss Jo also visits the local government schools to promote learning through play and especially reading books to the children. It’s difficult because the adults who are the teachers have never experienced learning like this themselves, rote learning and learning how to pass exams are the core of the education system here – it’s hard to demonstrate the value of play.

We dragged a heavy holdall and some carrier bags up to the Childrens Room, and opened them up with the delighted kids. The props and costumes from ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ are staying here, so that children can re-create their own versions of the show.

Schools who want to put on their own show can use our ‘illustrate it yourself’ book as a script, and borrow the props and costumes from Miss Jo.

For now though, everyone’s taking it in turns to dress up, the water-pistols have been taken outside and a full scale water fight has ensued, and finally the children get to check out how the fake cupcakes are made!

We know these things will be treasured and well-used because as we arrived a bunch of kids were outside blowing bubbles using the bubble nets that we’d donated to the Children’s Room 4 years ago.

We’ve also got 10 huge classroom books and 50 or so smaller books for the book corner, donated by so many wonderful people back home. (We’ve given out the other 50 or so to the village schools already).

Ben opened ‘Each Peach Pear Plum’ and got comfy on a cushion with a tight circle of kids spotting the different things on each page.

Schools can also borrow these books from Miss Jo.

And so, The End.

The Yak Pack Theatre Project 2022 has been a great success.

We have staged 13 performances throughout Spiti in 4 government schools and 2 public schools, 2 monasteries, 3 village halls, 1 old age home and 1 café!

Altogether more than 1350 people have come to a show, which is more than 10% of the population.

Our message of not dropping plastic waste was well received and appreciated, chiming in well with the motto taught in schools ‘Sangma Piti, Demo Piti’ (‘clean Spiti, beautiful Spiti’). Communities have enjoyed performances together, especially seeing their peers/children perform on stage with us. Children watching have been inspired by seeing our own teenagers performing too.

The craft/dance/drama workshops were held prior to 9 of the performances, allowing 110 children and adults to participate more deeply in the Project. They made flowers from discarded plastic we’d picked up from the locality (mostly plastic drinks bottles), sitting around chatting in English whilst enjoying being creative just for the joy of it. We know it’s been inspirational because Ollie spotted a group of kids in Kaza busily making plastic flowers one afternoon! Workshop participants then used the flowers during the performance, to grow, be picked by Little Red Riding Hood, to die of plastic pollution, and finally grow again at the end. Everyone also learnt the dance to ‘Asereje’, and during the show, loved getting up on stage with the actors to teach the rest of the audience the moves. In the final scene they joined us again on stage, this time encouraging everyone else to dance together too.

This Project was made possible by the generosity and enthusiasm of our friends in Spiti, old and new. Our heartfelt thanks to all of them, and especially:

Kaku, without whom no one would have a clue what was going on. He’s been an invaluable and integral part of the performance team the whole time we’ve been in Spiti. Its been such a pleasure to have him with us for a second Yak Pack Theatre project, and seeing how his confidence and skill on stage has grown. He’s been a real laugh to have on the team, always pranking us, lending his motorbike to Arjuna, taking some great photos, sorting out venues and liaising with locals, and being a wonderful ‘host’ to us wherever we went, especially being that link between homestay hosts and us.

Naren Rana shaped this Project in a fundamental way, by connecting us with government schools and asking us to come here earlier in July to fit in better with the school year.

It has been a privilege to visit schools who have very little external input or overseas visitors, and Rana made arrangements with the schools, and helped us obtain permission from the local authorities.

Rana and his wife Shalu have made us so at home in their hotel ‘the Old Monk’, it has truly been a home from home.

Lotey Ramesh and his company ‘Spiti Holiday Adventure’ organised all our logistics – yaks, donkeys, homestays, our tour bus for the school visits, and to and from Spiti itself – in a seemingly effortless way!

More than that, Lotey is the person who knows everyone, connecting the dots, finding things we need, and even lent Arjuna a bike to come up to Demul.

And he has made us so very welcome at the Himalayan Café, one of our favourite Kaza hangouts.

Jonny, our guide for the week spent in the high villages, went above and beyond being a guide (though he was superb at that, low key and with a real interest and knowledge of local wildlife, so perfect for us).

He was also really on board with the project, helping out in the craft workshops, coming to the shows, helping us rearrange furniture, carrying props, liaising with locals over the show times and places, making our week performing in the high villages run really smoothly. He fitted so easily into the Yak Pack team.

Kitty for letting us turn Café Zomsa into a theatre for an afternoon! It worked so well and hopefully will prove an inspiration to hold more events like ours in future. Zomsa is where we have spent many a relaxed evening in Kaza, chatting to local people, drinking chai (sometimes arak!) and playing tunes.

Kitty’s hospitality has made it easy to feel so at home in Spiti.

Miss Jo for giving the children of Spiti a place where they can learn through play, free to create, imagine, cooperate, invent, experiment, in utter contrast to their school days. The Spiti Childrens Room is colourful, fun-filled, messy and utterly wonderful.

Miss Jo has been so supportive of the Project, coming along to 3 of our shows and encouraging lots of local kids to come along too.

We hope our Project supports her future work in some small way.

And finally, thank you to everyone back home in the UK who has supported us for the past 4 years of preparations and fund-raising to get here and make this project happen. There will be an evening on our return to share stories and photos and ask us questions about the Project.

The Yak Pack Theatre Project 2022 has been a wonderful thing to be part of and we all feel very blessed. Thank you for having us. Tashi Delek. Love from The Yak Pack.

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