Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Corner

I had convinced myself that all of Uganda had me backed into a corner - a comfortable one, but a corner nonetheless.  It was in this corner that I saw myself lacking the challenge I needed to grow, to change, to evolve, to not be the person I was five months ago.  Essentially, this corner was THE place in the world I most wanted to avoid, that and The World's Only Corn Palace.

This corner, inhabited for the first four days in Uganda, consisted of the following schedule:
  1. waking up late [8 am] after sleeping for almost 11 hours
  2. cold showers, which were uncannily refreshing
  3. a hearty breakfast of toast/croissants/homemade peanut butter/scrambled eggs and veggies/coffee/bananas
  4. talking about life, science, and politics with Father Joe
  5. two or three hours of reading The Count of Monte Cristo on the balcony [how all of my rooms have thus far had a balcony, I'll never know]
  6. surfing the internet and updating the blogs, family in the US and India, and "attempting" to contact members of Breakdance Project Uganda
  7. a hearty lunch of rice/cassava/beans/pasta & tomato sauce/bananas
  8. talking about cultures with Father Joe
  9. more reading
  10. more internet surfing
  11. roaming the Catechists Training Center grounds
  12. more attempts to contact BPU
  13. a hearty dinner of rice/cassava/beans/polenta/beef or smoked fish/bananas
  14. talking about travel and other lands with Father Joe, Father Felix, and Joe the groundskeeper
  15. sleeping at 9 pm, due to the frequent power outages
Excluding the occasional trip into town on a boda-boda to attempt to withdraw money from an ATM, my life in Africa had already become redundant, repetitive, and very very settled into a corner.


This, however, all changed after receiving the fateful email and making the fateful phone call to a BPU director, Josh Jones.  The man had a delightful British accent, was skinnier than I expected being a breakdancer/bboy, and held the air of someone who was completely happy with their life.  After a lunch in an American-themed cafe, we traveled by [the same] boda-boda to the Gulu Youth Centre.  Nearly falling off of the moped pushed the corner away a few inches, but also resurfaced fond memories of almost meeting the same fate in India.

"And this is our practice grounds," Josh said, arms spread wide open.  Aside from the field of grass and the nearby water tank, Josh's gaze faced only a cement hut.  "You'll start today," Josh said, reading the worried look I had on my face.  I had mentioned earlier how I literally knew nothing about breakdance.  "No worries," he continued, "Eddie here will teach you.  And these guys are just starting out too, so you're not alone."  Josh waved over some twenty-somethings, one wearing a tuque and DC shoes [Eddie], one wearing dress pants and suspenders [a schoolteacher, Jeff], and a third wearing a rugby shirt with the collar popped [name still unknown].  As they approached, the corner backed away a few more feet.

"Don't worry," Eddie said, reading the same, unchanged expression, "You'll start with baby classes."

Baby.  The word called forth memories made from no more than two weeks ago, my kalaripayattu teacher yelling as I stretched, jumped, and slid my sore and sweat-drenched excuse of a body across the tile floor:  "Baby, are you tired?" and "Come on, Baby, we're not finished."  Perhaps the name came from the way I grunted as he made me practice, or the way I grimaced as I pushed myself to go as fast as he wanted, but it most probably came from the way I found myself almost in tears at the end of every class.  

Come on, Baby.  Learn to break.  In front of 30 Ugandan youths who have done this for years.

And thus the hour and a half commenced with Eddie, Jeff, and NoName.  At first, learning and repeating uprock [see in: breakdance] made me feel like I was doing nothing more than the Charleston.  Then came footwork on the ground, which made me feel like an elderly person trying to relive his youth.  The most humiliating part was learning the Baby freeze, the most basic of all poses in b-boying, in which I realized the amount of upper body strength my forearms lacked.  Time and time again, I rolled over onto the grass ["You learn Baby moves here, on the Baby ground.  If you learn in the hut, you might hurt yourself."], unable to support my hip with my elbow.

"Don't worry, it's coming."  Eddie said, turning to leave and join the non-Baby b-boys.

Jeff and I continued to practice.  The uprock was the easiest to get, the footwork bearable, and the Baby freeze... hypothetically tolerable.  Each successful execution resulted in an applause by the other b-boys, and each failed attempt resulted in a raucous round of laughter.

But each attempt pushed that corner farther and farther, first by inches, then by feet.


There's a delicious moment in dance, and in this case, breakdance, when you feel that everything you do is executed correctly and, more importantly, without doubt.  This moment is most recognized by breathing.  The breath is inintially chunky, hesitant, and usually held when changing from standing on both feet to being on all fours to supporting your body in the air with just your head and hands.  But when your body actually knows how to do it - after about an hour and a half of attempting, failing, and laughing - something changes.  Maybe it's a sense of pride, maybe it's a sense of accomplishment, but it's most likely a sense of awareness that you are doing everything correctly, and this sense pushes the breath out in one strong burst.

For some [purportedly unknown] reason, my breath came out in the form of yelling, "AMERICA!" upon executing the Baby freeze.

The Ugandan boys paused, smiled, laughed, and clapped.  "Perfect!" they yelled.  "See?  You're learning fast."

I'll admit that learning these basics in an hour and a half is a small victory in the world of breakdance.  Yes, it might take weeks for someone to learn how to six step, or even hold a freeze, or how to transition from uprock to three step.  And yes, it'll take several more weeks [years, probably] to learn something much more impressive.  And yes, this will all involve getting even more humiliated in front of these horribly graceful b-boys.  Regardless, executing that bit of choreography today was still that: a victory.  However small it was, I took it and relished the fact that I had quickly left the comfort zone I had built for myself in the past four days.

Take that, Uganda.

Nobody puts Baby in the Corner.


No comments:

Post a Comment