Sarah Kay: a Muse and a Friend

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A Canon 600D slung around her neck, a Nepali looking girl of 5 feet 11, walks alongside us four spoken

word instructors from the Word Warriors. We are at the Laboratory School in Kirtipur, preparing for an

80 – minute workshop with 40 of their eighth graders. As a lady school teacher shows us the classrooms,

she keeps peeking at this unusually tall girl with us.

The teacher has no clue as to who this woman is.

Later, I introduce her as Sarah Kay, “our American intern photographer.”

Sarah was undercover that day. The week of December 20 to 28th, she had been training us to build

curriculums, become better spoken word instructors and educators. On December 28th, the day she

accompanied us to LAB school, her actual mission was to watch us teach. This was the first time we were

doing a spoken word workshop with a group that also had visually impaired students. We were trying

out our modified approach we had worked on earlier that week and Sarah was to give us feedbacks.

After the workshop, we all gather at her sunny rooftop apartment in Patan. This space- a blend of

traditional Newari, Japanese and chic modern architectural styles had become our private classroom

with Sarah “miss”. We fix up noodle soup lunch for our hungry selves and sit down at the table,

surrounded by chart papers listing out our teaching objectives, best teaching practices and several

prompts pasted on the sliding glass doors and windows.

Over several cups of green tea, that had somehow become our classroom essential that week, we

discuss the day, the week, the curriculum’s progress, our prompts – this is our last day of training and

we are eager to cover as much as we can. We had started at 9 in the morning. It’s already half past 6 and

I try to wrap it up for the day worrying we’re pushing her too much but she continues.

“I want to make sure you have everything you need.”

***

Sarah had joked earlier that week, “Hey, I’m saving you thousands of dollars on grad school.” By the end

of the week, we could not disagree.

One of her teaching goals was “Focus on process instead of product”. Though we didn’t walk out with a

finalized curriculum sheet that day or a graduation certificate, we felt “skilled” and confident that we

could make our own new prompts, execute the old ones better, work on well thought out curriculums,

better articulate our work as spoken word poets and instructors and handle the most difficult of classes

with ease….may be, not so much the last one.

From what I’ve learned over the past 3 years of facilitating workshops and teaching a few classes is that

you never know what a classroom or a student will present you with and in those unforeseen scenarios,

questions, do you actually learn to become better teachers. This is something that no one can prepare

you for; not even Sarah Kay.

But she did help us be better prepared for what was in our hands- be clear in our teaching goals, plan

activities accordingly, scaffold* them well, give clear instructions, be able to contract or expand lessons

depending on the time we have, focus on teaching the hows rather than whats, give examples,

demonstrate, take risk and encourage students to take risks with their work, participate with your

students, hold things students share and use them as examples, accredit their efforts and give as much

importance to their stories, experiences, voices as you would to the “masters” (from Devkota to

Shakespeare) that you bring into the classroom.

***

We finally wrap up around 7:45 and go out for dinner together. Ever since Sarah landed in Kathmandu,

most of my evening meals had been with her. Sarah is essentially a story teller, on stage, off stage and

over meals as well.

From the last time she was here in December 2012 and from the time we spent together this time, I get

to know her better with every day spent and every meal shared – things like how eggs on top of food

like the bara we shared in Bhaktapur reminds her of breakfast her mom makes, how she has been living

off of her suitcase with no place of her own, as she is travelling all the time, how one of her suitcases got

stolen, how she met her boyfriend(we girls got to watch a video of him playing a harp and sing on her

phone and we just melted) how her father’s best shots of his day of photography are always the first or

the last shot he takes, so many stories about her brother, and about her lion and blankie.

After dinner and few drinks, we’re all tired. It was a long day today. The day before was also one of the

busiest we’ve ever had. We’d put together a 700 people show. I still can’t believe seven hundred

people- showed up for poetry.

“..yesterday restored my faith in humanity..usually the world feels bitter. ..but today I feel great..

excited” I remembered Sarah saying something along those lines that morning with a bright smile on her

face.

It’s almost 10 pm. As we walk out of the café, I am almost staggering- that was one strong margarita.

After we say goodbye to people who had to drive to the other side of the town, four of us walk towards

Patan Durbar Square, lit yellow, silent and almost still except a few people still perched on the dabalis

talking, a few walking home may be, some stray dogs snuggled at corners to keep themselves warm and

a few cabs passing by. We stop a cab for the three of us. In my head, I’m still thinking we should

probably walk Sarah to her apartment. But she insisted she could go by herself- it was only a minute

walk.

We get in the cab and Sarah starts walking. I, P and S “the wonderful WW caretakers” drive away. They

drop me at Tyagal. I wish them goodnight and take my one minute walk home. I rush straight to bed and

once inside the blankets, I text Sarah if she got into her apartment. (She has a track record of being

locked out of her apartments in Nepal- a story she tells really well.) I wait five minutes and she hasn’t

replied back. Paranoia strikes. The durbar square was well lit but the alley she had to take was dark. I

check if she has texted S or P. They haven’t heard from her either. What ifs of bad scenarios start

floating through my head. I call her on the phone but the line gets cut before it can ring. This happens

five times. I finally get a ring, but when she picks up I can’t hear anything from her side. I call again- I get

an answering machine. I text, again. I’m seriously considering waking up my father and checking up on

her at her apartment when she finally replies, “I’m fine.”

I relax and drift into sleep.

***

Next day, before she leaves, we are at her apartment as she is busy packing. Her bag that was filled with

her books when she came in is now being filled up with colorful felt slippers, the kind she had bought as

joke the last time she was here and realized it was actually a huge hit. She took back 11 pairs this time.

The day we had gone shopping for those slippers, we had come up with a tongue twister ‘Sarah on a

slipper shopping spree. Sarah on a slipper shopping spree’. These slippers were Christmas presents for

her loved ones back home. Sarah had given up her Christmas this year to be here for us- as it was the

only time free time of the year. That’s how much she believed in us and our work here.

The first day of our ‘training’ she set down her beautiful hands (she definitely could’ve been a hand

model) on the table and said, “So how cool is this – we’re in this beautiful apartment in Patan, Nepal,

sipping tea and talking poetry, classroom and teaching? Life is good, huh?”

As I watch this woman, I’ve come to love and know, more than when I first watched her on Youtube,

rushing around the apartment with the white board that still has some of the teaching guidelines in her

handwriting, I smile. At this point, life is great.

Sideboxes:

About Sarah:

Sarah Kay is an American slam poet and the founder of Project VOICE. She arrived in Nepal for the

second visit on December 2014 and conducted an instructors training workshop at Quixote’s Cove and

performed at a show at Alliance Francaise Kathmandu. She has been travelling all over the world,

educating and inspiring people through her spoken word poetry and workshops.

To visit Sarah’s website:

http://www.kaysarahsera.com/

About Project VOICE:

Project VOICE uses spoken word poetry to entertain, educate, and inspire. Through award-winning

performances and innovative workshops, Project VOICE is dedicated to promoting

empowerment, improving literacy and encouraging empathy and creative collaboration in classrooms

and communities around the world.

Project VOICE is raising money for scholarships that will enable more programs in diverse spaces.  To

donate: http://www.virgin.com/unite/donate/project-voice

About the writer:

Ujjwala Maharjan is one of the coordinators for Word Warriors, a spoken word poetry group based in

Kathmandu. The group has been performing, conducting events, competitions and workshops, all over

Nepal, sharing the platform that spoken word provides for youth expression and voice. A cultural grant

from the Danish Center for Culture and Development (CKU) has made it possible for a few Word

Warriors, including her to work full time on taking this art form to communities around Nepal, with a

special focus on marginalized groups whose voices have been traditionally suppressed, through a project

“Write to Speak”.

Sarah Kay was here to help the WWs prepare for their year of spoken word adventure with Write to Speak.

 

First published in ECS Teenz/NEXT Feb 2015 issue

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