The 1st International Agok Dance Competition!
*The views expressed in this blog do not represent the views of MSF*
They say that burn out is high here. They say that you must really take care to ensure that you don’t become another ‘casualty ‘of the environment. One thing that has made Agok special, at least during my time in the field, are the events and activities my teammates have conjured up specifically to combat this emotional, mental and physical lethargy that so many experience during their time here. To be honest however, when I first heard word about the ‘dance competition’, my initial reaction was to feel even more exhaustion. I could not remember the last time that I had a free weekend, let alone even one free evening to myself. Planning for the competition was underway; posters were hung, draped and plastered onto every surface, announcing when the first round of auditions would be held, when the second round of auditions would be held and then finally when the actual competition would be held. I heard murmurs of costumes, of props of music selection and my response was… “when will I possibly have the time to partake in this!?” ‘And costumes!??’ I think if I hadn’t felt so exhausted, my response would have been one of pure elation as I LOVE to dance. So normally, this would be MY event.
As things started to come together however, I realized that this was actually therapeutic and beautiful. As the sun began to set, crowds started to gather into a large circle. Before we knew it, the competition was well underway. Together we watched in awe and amusement as first the maternity department ‘took the stage’. Dancers dressed in tennis shoes with knee-high socks, dyed red layered skirts, white T-shirts and red and black poker style top hats flew into the arena shouting, singing and dancing. The leader entered first, weaving in and out of the crowds carrying a huge shield and a leopard print loin cloth.
When the log team was announced, probably forty, shirtless, 7-foot-tall midnight sky black South Sudanese men came running into the center of the circle. Some had MSF masking tape-bracelets around their arms, others sported belts, from which hung empty Dettol bottles, keys, water bottles and other ‘log paraphernalia’. They danced, ran, jumped, kicked up an excessive amount of dust and discharged waves of testosterone into the heavy South Sudanese night air.
Then there was the ‘Western Dance Group’, a mixture of hip hop and modern dance to raise the energy even further.
Being on the expat team, our dances and costumes were of course thrown together and improvised and paled in comparison to what the others presented, however the entertainment factor was high. The air was filled with laughter as probably over a hundred people watched us dance la Bomba to a G-string wearing sumo wrestling hippopotamus who was projected onto a screen in front of us. We all had leopard printed bandanas around our heads, except for our fearless leader, who had also made himself a leopard print G-string (over his pants of course). We saved our ‘performance for the end’, so as to not set any precedence and so as to merely end the evening with some lighthearted entertainment. We knew that we had no chance of winning the competition.
The real stars of the night however, were the Acholi group. They danced their way into the open, the women coming first and then the men. They had fashioned headpieces out of feathers, wire coiling and metal washers. The women all wore, full pleated skirts which served to accentuate even the slightest hip or buttock shake. The dance was beautiful. It was a song. A story. Ultimately, it was a dance of Peace.
Here, in the middle of war-ravaged South Sudan, we were dancing for peace, choosing to celebrate one another’s differences rather than let them divide us. For a moment, I contemplated how to bottle this spirit of peace and spread it freely outside Agok, until it had permeated all 28 states with its sweet aroma. If only it were that simple. For now, we will continue to dance, to celebrate what it means to be alive, to love one another, to honor and respect one another and to cherish our differences, because our differences are beautiful.