So I dream all night about elephants and mountain tops eager to get up and see if there are emails in my inbox from the Team in Nepal. Their late night musings, concerns or questions come in about 6am at my house and I am off and running.
And, as I promised, I am going to profile another member of the team who wrote a piece this morning that says it all. I need not say another word except:
Rob Lenfesty is from Asheville, North Carolina and is the person standing in for Richard Gannaway and teaching the children music. This is his first time working with AO and I am certain it will not be the last time.
Rob is part of an intentional community in Asheville, a yoga teacher, slackline teacher (get to know about this if you do not already know), a composer, musician and magic with children. Here is what he shares with you from the heart of Nepal”
“Since arriving here we have set some cultural experiential goals. One for me has been to ride an elephant; and in the spirit of fun and creativity do some yoga asana on its back. We had spoken of this often; and when an elephant came down the hill next to where Josh and I sat eating breakfast I commented;
“I wish they didn’t all have those boxes on their backs (referring to
the wooden platform adorning all elephants we have thus far seen)
because it will make it difficult to do any yoga on one.”
Half joking and yet, right in that moment, the elephant got to its knees and the owner dropped down and began removing the box off of its back. I decided to get a closer look and walked down there. “Elephant shower?,” the mahout (elephant keeper) asked me, gesturing to the elephant’s back and the river.
With a broad smile on my face I crawled up and there I was, riding bareback on an elephant mere seconds after musing about it. We went into the water and the elephant began sucking water into its trunk and drenching me on its back. The day was already hot and the water was refreshing. Another blessing barely in disguise; by standing in a couple of feet of water the elephant afforded me the opportunity to safely try fun things like headstands on his back. Elephant Yoga!
A few times I splashed down into the water but was able to get back up and try again. Afterwards I was able to just connect to the beautiful and intelligent creature before he left the river. One goal manifested, and beautifully!
I feel that the “child-like” compulsion to play and try new things is the key to refreshing and invigorating the human spirit. Such play awakens the divine inside of us; we glow with the pure joy of living and the happiness that is derived from new experiences and magical opportunities realized. It was with this playful and activated spirit that we piled up in the truck and drove to the school to meet the kids who are to be the heart of this journey.
We arrive at the school to find a group of well-behaved enthusiastic children sitting behind their tall wooden desks, eager to learn. It did not take but a few moments for us to break the ice with some perfectly goofy vocal exercises and games to establish a playful vibe for this experience.
It was now in this moment that the true alchemy of this group of AOMusic ambassadors really became apparent. While I prepared the materials to teach the kids the song we were going to record them singing, as well as confer with the principle and school officials to discuss logistics, Josh continued to engage the kids with fun games and exercises that served the multifaceted purposes of play, exercising musical awareness and exercising singing voices. We wrote the song on the whiteboard and practiced each syllable and then the song. The kids picked it up immediately.
I was astounded by how quickly they got it. After a few more games we brought them outside and got a recording of them singing as a group underneath a mango tree in the schools courtyard. I then proceeded to begin my individual recordings while Josh continued to pull engaging games out of thin air to keep the kids delighted and inspired.
When we finally stopped for lunch I decided to bring out my slackline to see how the kids enjoyed it. Slackline is a piece of flat one inch wide webbing that you place between two trees and then practice balancing on. I teach with the Yogaslackers, a group who are dedicated to bringing this wonderful practice to the world in an easy to learn format that celebrates the diversity of opportunities this simple tool provides. In a class what we establish are the basic poses of an ever-growing list of yoga asana that we have applied to the slackline and the flows that move between them.
I set up the line and the kids all gathered ‘round. I showed them the basic knee balance that we first teach and then each kid who wanted to (and some teachers too!) gave it a shot. As each approached the line everyone would cheer their name and clap enthusiastically for even small victories from each person. I did a quick demo of what is possible and then fluidly returned to recording the children individually. Josh found even more games and musical adventures to take the kids on in the mean time.
The film and photo crew of Jessie, Karan and Baldev continued to find creative ways to shoot the recordings and orchestrate shots throughout the session. The fact they have been doing so since we arrived in Kathmandu; capturing each inspired moment along the way with ease. Thus we made sure the light was perfect and recorded the kids as they sung; eyes beaming at the fancy cameras, boom stand and recording equipment surrounding them. Even for those of us familiar with all of this equipment it was surreal.
I can only imagine the wonder of it all for these kids out in the Nepalese countryside. In all we were hoping to keep the kids captivated for an hour, at most an hour and a half. After all, today was a special day of holiday and we knew they would want to get out and enjoy it. Except we were underestimating ourselves as well as the kids. For four hours we not only kept the kids captivated and entertained, but they were hungry for more. They wanted us to stay and continue to play and record. To reiterate with enthusiasm; Josh Massad stepped up in a beautiful way. He had the kids singing tabla rhythms and had brought an arsenal of fun instruments for them to play. Entertained, entrained and educated all at the same time. And wanting more to boot.
Because of how musically engaged and fun-loving the experience was for the kids, by the time they reached me for their individual session they were fully loose, activated and vocally warmed up for the experience. When we finally left the children were beaming. I beamed at my crew. I could not have been blessed with a more alchemically perfect combination of people to create this magical experience with.
Rob Lenfestey, Celebrate Life.
Tomorrow is another day, and I will finally introduce you to a young man from Mumbai who is filming in Panasonic HD for our larger documentary: Karan Sharma. And does he have a wonderful story.