On the dusty red roads of Gbarnga, Liberia’s second city, BOCAP (Bong County Awareness Programme) perform dramas to get across information about important issues to passers by. Those passers by include children on their way to and from school, people going to work, motorbike taxi drivers waiting for passengers and wandering salespeople, carrying food, clothes and fruit and veg. In January 2011, three new faces joined the group – dancing Liberian dances and joining in the improvised plays.
So here I am taking part in an amusing but poignant drama for the second time this week. The aim was to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS as you can see from my t-shirt – a quick costume change from the dance outfits we were wearing moments before! The crowds were large due to the fact that we had just been attempting the traditional dancing and so we tried to keep their attention and explore the issues surrounding HIV. Whilst we were performing, the crowds which gathered were encouraged to go and get their status checked on the spot. Although I was reluctant at first, I actually enjoyed it so much!
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about Liberian actors it’s that they have a rare talent for improvisation. By the time this picture was taken I was so relieved that the dance segment of our performance was over, but little did I know that in ten minutes time my ‘husband’ (pictured with me) would announce to the audience that we’d discussed voters registration in bed and then proceed to rest his feet on my lap in the strangest public display of affection I’ve ever been involved in. It was hilarious though and so worth it for encouraging people to register to vote in the upcoming elections. We even discovered a whole new level of over-heating – “I’m sweating like an Englishman dressed in African clothing about to humiliate myself in front of hundreds of people!”
It’s pretty impressive to see the size of the crowd you can gather simply by dressing us in what we were assured were traditional African outfits. As soon as people saw us, (and I’m sure that we were very difficult to spot) they rushed over to see what was going on. And as soon as they realised we would be dancing they called over their friends too!
The second week of October 2011 is the date set for Liberian elections. January 10 to February 6 is the time set aside for voters to register so that they can take part when the time comes. Many people who participated in the democratic process last time around – 2005 – are frustrated that not enough has changed. BOCAP – supported by CJPS (Centre for Justice & Peace Studies) – is encouraging them that they should still vote: not only will they get the chance to change the future, but they also receive an official ID card.
HIV/AIDS is another subject of the street dramas. While the play takes place, members of the audience are encouraged to take part in voluntary counselling and testing, so they can find out their HIV status; the first step in taking control of their health and their lives.