“Traditional arts are artistic activities such as music, dance, and crafts that are passed down from one generation to the next within families and communities and are regarded by the community as part of their heritage.” This is how the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts describes their Heritage & Traditional Arts Program. This fall I will begin a project to help to identify master dancers in New Hampshire’s Bhutanese community that the Arts Council can add to their roster of traditional artists. I first saw traditional dance when I worked with New Hampshire Humanities to produce a folktale told by Hari Tiwari, an adult ESOL student in Laconia. To celebrate the book’s publication, we had a big festival on Manchester’s west side where many people from Bhutan have made their homes. I was fascinated by a dance performed by young girls and choreographed by a master dancer. This is the man I seek to find, the master dancer! I want to hear the story of dance from his point of view and I want to record him and photograph the dance! I have heard that young dancers are creating new forms, combining traditional dance with Bollywood styles. I’m on a quest to find out how dance changes with time and when dancers leave their homeland. This also helps with my current research for a book.
Here’s the story of the festival where we celebrated the folktale we published in Nepali and English, The Story of a Pumpkin.
This winter I’m mentoring a young student who is one of only 15 students selected for The Telling Room’s Young Writers and Leaders Program. These are international high school students from Somalia, Rwanda, Jordan, Iraq, Congo, Burundi, and Afghanistan and are now attending one of Portland, Maine’s high schools. They’ve all come to write a story based on their own lives. Each student is working one-on-one with a professional writer. Mentor and Mentee. This is an experience I am savoring, as I do free writes with my talented mentee and begin to see the story she wants to tell. And this work will result in an anthology of students’ stories as was a book I often bring to teachers when I visit schools. The book is I Remember Warm Rain: 15 Teenagers 15 Coming to America Stories. This is an exquisite story collection. And these students are in the process of making a book of their own.
Students at the ESL Institute at the University of New Hampshire presented a conference on June 19 to recognize World Refugee Day. ESL Lecturer Meaghan Dunn and her students had read The Good Braider and invited me to come and speak. I did, and went early to see the students’ poster presentations. They each focused on a refugee group and told the story in images and words. Some told of refugees coming to their home country. Students from Indonesia reported the news-breaking story of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar that
have been given haven in Indonesia. Other students spoke about their own countries where people have been forced to escape. A young woman from Iraq said she is here on a student visa. She hopes at the end of her education, she can return to her home. I wish all the world could have heard these students speak.
After I spoke about the courage of a girl from Sudan, two students brought me an armful of flowers. The stunning center flower was a tiger lily. I found this about tiger lilies. “An Asian legend says a hermit once assisted a tiger by removing an arrow from its injured body, giving rise to a belief the tiger lily is symbolic of friendship.” Thank you, all the students and teachers at the ESL Institute. I was your student.