Storytelling Workshop

On Saturday we taught a workshop for some of the guardians of children at the WWO schools. There were 30 participants, young, old, single parents, relatives turned guardians. They trickled in, laughing at our ridiculous Amharic greetings and our handshaking. The goal of this one-time workshop was to play, release, relax and to freshen up their tools for relating to their children through games and stories.

We started with a warm-up, played games, and sang a South African song with choreography to much delight. The main activity was remembering a day or a moment from our childhoods when we felt happy and really proud of ourselves for even just a moment. Then we tell our stories to a partner who transformed it into a fairytale for the rest of the group.
During the story telling one woman gets up into the middle of the circle. Her tone is different than the others, Mimi who is next to says that she is telling her own story, not her partner’s. She keeps going. The tone is different than the only stories. She stands steady, her feel rooted to the center of the circle, and she leans forward slightly. Someone in the circle says something. I guess that she puts the person in their place saying something like “No, this is what I lived through.’ Something like that, because she waves the back of her hand at the person, but really I have no idea. But her voice is so steady and strong, her words come out spinning a strong rope. Then suddenly the tension in the circle changes, I feel that what she has said changes how I feel too. It’s like a strong knot that she’s tied with the rope of her story. I don’t know what she’s said, just that something in the tone has changed yet again and then I notice someone sniffling across the circle from me, then another person, and another, she keeps talking, they keep crying, even one of the men has tears in his eyes and is wiping his nose. The entire circle is moved, has shifted, so many people are crying. She sits back down and all 36 of us sit in silence for a very full few seconds.

Mimi who has been translating the stories into my ear is also so moved by the story that I don’t expect her to say anything. We just sit there witnessing the change in the group. Then Jamie asks how she felt to tell her own story. She answers that she told her own story because she felt it needed to be shared and says, “I felt so happy I could come here and tell my story. I felt like a very important person.”

After the end of the workshop Mimi summarized this woman’s story for us: “She was a maid for a family and the husband and the wife were both infected with HIV and they both knew it but she didn’t know. And the husband started raping her when the wife was away even though he knew he was HIV +. She got pregnant and still she didn’t know until she went to the hospital to have the baby and then she found out she was HIV+ and she thought that the baby would be too. The baby stayed at the hospital for 7 months and then they tested him and he was negative. She says that he was cured by the people at the hospital.” When Mimi tells me this she kind of sighs (because less effective HIV testing with some fake positives was done in Ethiopia a few years ago, some people tested positive once and then after visiting holy waters or seeking other traditional cures, they tested negative…so now some people in Ethiopia do believe it is possible to be cured of HIV).

We talk about the power of telling stories, of creating a space in which to share our stories. The participants speak about the common ground between all of their stories. Then we close our ideas and do a relaxation exercise….

…when I open my eyes, the faces across from me look so peaceful and full of rest. One man says “I was disturbed by the deeply touching story she told us, now I feel relaxed and I feel at ease.”

We finish with Ethiopian song, a whole lot of shoulder shaking, big laughs, and warm handshakes.

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