Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Looking and Seeing

‘This is the first time I’ve ever looked a white person in the eyes.’ It was a young black guy that said this to me and him saying it has stayed with me ever since, both in the fact of what he said and that he felt able to say it. I felt proud that the situation we were in – an adult storytelling workshop in Cape Town in South Africa – had made it both possible and comfortable for him to say such a thing.

I’d been asked to run that workshop by Alan Kenyon, a wonderful man who believed in stories and their power to enable things to be said and heard that need saying and hearing. Sadly Alan passed away a few years ago. He was a science teacher-trainer whom I’d originally met when he turned up at a storytelling course I’d been asked to run in an Adult Education venue in South London where I’d never previously worked.  No-one other than Alan turned up, a disconcerting circumstance which had the wonderful consequence that I was able to begin getting to know him there and then. At that time, he was in London for a while to try and learn how to use storytelling as part of the teaching of science and maths. After he’d returned to his work in South Africa, this interest of his eventually led him to put together the storytelling trip to South Africa which he asked me to come and do.

The storytelling trip happened shortly after Nelson Mandela was released from his long imprisonment for his fight against racism. In any number of ways, the trip brought me up against what were then, and to a large extent still are, the huge inequalities of a racially and economically divided land. I’ll never forget the young black teacher whose school I went to for a storytelling day. She was honest. ‘How come you can come here to do your work and I cannot get to London?’ Good question. And good that she challenged me with it. It not infrequently comes back to my mind, reminding me not only how lucky I’ve been but, more pertinently, of the vast inequalities of opportunity that remain to be dealt with.

It’s good when such inequalities can be clearly expressed and not remain simmering under the surface. Expression can lead to action. Undoubtedly there’s a particular need for more of it right now in this country too. A week ago in our street in Brixton, many people turned out to clap in the tenth nationwide expression of gratitude for the NHS. This week when the cause was Black Lives Matter. I was getting ready to go out to join Paul on the street when he came back in. No-one else was there!

PS: The black and white ducks as pictured are from a jigsaw of one of the works of the artist, M.C. Escher. It’s one of the several excellent jigsaws Paul and I have completed over this Lockdown period. At present we’re doing a double picture of Waterloo Station, one half of the station in 1848, the other of the same view in 1948. All good fun!

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