Introduction: As I write to you from Cairo I promise to deliver both fun, adventurous tales as well as deep insightful ponderings. But first we need to lay some groundwork for what I am doing here and why FrameMaker Arts is needed.
A Story: The Red Pencil Girl
The red pencil girl was the youngest child in a group of siblings, begging together up and down one of the busiest streets in upper-middle class Maadi. Children like this and their families, minus the father, often travel into the wealthier parts of the city to beg on weekends. I saw them pick our blonde heads out from the crowd and immediately started trying to think of what I could do. Any money I give will be given to the oldest child and delivered to the father. In all likelihood, she will be beaten if she withholds any for herself. Food will also be passed up the chain, leaving very little for the youngest in the group. As they approached I kept walking and praying, looking around for an opportunity. Then I remembered, I was carrying a single red coloring pencil that had fallen out of the kids’ bag of crayons. Perfect. As she approached with her older brother I said hello in Arabic, asked them how they were doing and introduced myself. We stopped in front of a store and I knelt down and gave them the pencil. They were enthralled. I also spied a faded hop scotch game someone had painted into the tile outside the grocery! PERFECT AGAIN! I hopped it up and down and showed my kids how to do it. Within moments, the little boy and girl had joined us in the game. My heart melted.
One of the most difficult challenges of foreign travel is knowing HOW and WHEN to give to someone in the streets. Do they really need it? Will it really help? The questions often hit after the fact because in the moment you go blank and freeze. I feel so fortunate to have met my Red Pencil Girl early on in our stay here. She reminded me that it doesn’t take much to bring joy and laughter to a child, and those are two things we always have enough of.
First of all, this is a multifaceted trip in which my entire family, husband and two children, are included. Samuel is now six, Gloria is 4. We homeschool, and my husband operates our content marketing business. I occasionally contribute strategic planning and creative strategy to his contracts but otherwise it’s HIS show! AND I work on my research and arts. One feature of my work here is the end of the Master’s Degree! I’m writing a thesis on antique educational frameworks as the foundation for new models of multi-ethnic and multi-cultural global education. Lofty yes. Too much to chew, of course! Wouldn’t have it any other way. However, Egypt is key.
I chose Egypt because I have relationships here among teachers and schools who may be able to guide the work better than anywhere else. There is great diversity in race and culture here if you know where to look. The other reason I chose Egypt, aside from the food, is that I believe this country is one of the ancient beds for somatic communication. Somatic means “relating to the body, especially as distinct from the mind.” It is a term we dancers and performers know very well. Recent trends in creative improvisation and mediation have led to it’s use as a “pop culture” term, and the “next best thing!” for everything from choreography to healthy living. Well, I think this may be old news. As old as the pyramids.
Nerdy Discovery: *Warning, dictionary may be required!* Somatic communication is not just a learned skill or form of artistic expression. I believe it is a naturally occurring framework of communication for entire cultures, and not a subconscious one. Non-verbal communication exists as the primary means of teaching, learning, communicating, remembering, and so much more. And I’m not talking about sign language! Many ancient cultures have been designated “oral” based on criteria such as lack of literature, storytelling traditions, and low literacy. Yes, oral cultures exist, and in a way we are all oral. What Walter Ong calls “print culture” has dominated culture for centuries and created entirely new frameworks for communication, particularly in Europe, and the United States. But my theory is that SOMATIC dominance not only exists but still thrives today! In Africa.
There may be pockets in other places in the world, but for now we are here. I have found my people.
Something you need to understand about artists is that in order to really create art and articulate the point we are passionately sacrificing our sanity and even our physical health for, we have to relate it to ourselves. This may be very taboo in academic research today, but in order to do the ethnographic study any justice, we’ll have to be more artistic than academic for the moment. So here we are FRAME! Cairo, Egypt. We’ll share our adventures as well the discoveries, and plan to share some beautiful performing arts along the way.
...next article Relating to the Inheritance
Written by Rachel Lee Davis, artistic director of FrameMaker Arts. Rachel is currently on an ethnographic exploration in Cairo, Egypt with her family and will be contributing her experiences on our blog. (Photo Credit: Jenn Dawson)