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Magic, Mike And 500 Street Kids
By Jane Cowin
Place: The BAGHA and Canadian Club
Date: Wednesday 15 December 1999
Overloaded, very dilapidated buses cause a traffic jam on upper Gulshan Ave. A babble of voices is heard approaching. As the noise levels soar the crows leave in protesting clouds. BAGHA staff glance at each other in trepidation. Bright red and yellow towels are put out around the pool. Bangla TV put the final touches to their set. T-shirts are piled onto tables and baseball caps are lined up in military rows. "They're here. Are you ready?".
Too late to get out of this one. A continuous snake of street kids, 500 of them, wind passed the gate, collect their T-shirt and cap, and thread their way to the tennis court. Wide eyes, big grins, bare feet, bottoms out of trousers, best frocks, "thank-you's" and "donnebad's", red roses (from the flower girls at the Sonargoan roundabout) and many smart salutes, and we're off on a marathon party.
The kids came from a collection of NGOs and clubs that deal with street kids and their problems, plus a few Mike McCarthy (the organisational genius behind all this) picked up on the way. "Hey. Do you want to go to a party?" We also had a few gatecrashers. Well- I wasn't going to turn them away and I'm sure Mike wouldn't. The main objective was achieved already. To get them all here. Now all they had to do was enjoy themselves. It was our job to ensure that they did.
Bangla TV put on a puppet show to kick off with. That seemed to go well, although there was a breakaway group who seemed more intent on utilising every available climbing opportunity on the jungle gym. Small girls in posh outfits, all gold and glitter, spun, turned, jumped and spent inordinate amounts of time upside-down. Saris and shalwars are not the most convenient of garments for climbing. The gate to the pool was heavily policed. "Not now. Later. Later." Groups of kids surrounded helpers to introduce themselves and to extract as much info as possible.
The puppet show finished and breakfast was served. The queuing system worked well on the whole. Pushing-in was frowned upon and returnees usually recognised and turned back. The kids put on a show of very self-possessed singing and dancing. Minute princesses danced elegantly in colourful dress. The Michael Jackson set was a great hit. The band set up (well-done the AID Workshop) and began to play with the enthusiasm that they kept up all day. As the kids began to dance and fool about, 250 pre-arranged children were bussed down to the Canadian Club. Both clubs had pools, a bouncy castle, a live band, a circus, a magician, lunch, party bags, mishti and candy floss. Admire the organisation, you lesser mortals, just admire.
Then came swimming. About 100 (well- it seemed like that), small boys stripped off and all jumped into the water at the same time. Most could swim. Those that couldn't we managed to haul out, spluttering, and fighting to get back in. "Look at me. Look at me." Such glee. Back-flips, underwater cartwheels, smooth dives, belly-flops and tentative dog paddles resulted in manic behaviour by the pool-watchers and lots of small shivering bodies. The girls dithered about putting on swimsuits, some brave souls did, but most clambered into the pool in their frocks, shalwas and knickers. A secluded changing room for the girls was set up at the back of the pool and wet clothing draped over all available fencing. The lost clothes box was rummaged for spare frocks and knickers.
While death was being cheated at the pool, on the tennis court serious action in the dance department was happening. There were some neat little movers. Much hip swinging. The band was getting hot. A constant stream of cold swimmers were sent over to dance and warm up. Hot dancers came and jumped in the pool. The pile of wet clothes grew. The clothes situation was getting critical when lunch was announced. The bouncy castle collapsed at the same time. At which I'm not surprised. It had probably had never seen such action.
250 kids sat on mats in long lines while they were waited on by myriads of people. Bowls for hand washing went round, cups, water, plates, chicken, rice, salad, vegetables. Vast pots of rice and chicken had been cooking all morning out the back. Quiet fell. Plates emptied. Seconds went round. Replete. Satisfied smiles. Embargo on swimming and bouncy castle (now blown up again) for at least half an hour.
The circus set up. The magician toured like the pied piper. The band played. The queue for the candy floss got agitated and had to be calmed down. The bouncy castle went down again. The mono-cyclist in the circus did miraculous things. People were seem wandering, bemused, trying to disconnect two bent nails. A fiendish trick introduced by the magician. The band played. The circus threw fire. Gasps. The bouncy castle went up again. The pool was quiet with just a few girls lazily floating about singing. Curled up on a cushion an overtired and emotional six year old slept, whiffling softly. The end was in sight.
Heaps of party bags and boxes of mishti were at the ready as the kids snaked out. All the helpers were there to say goodbye. The buses were parked outside. As each child left clutching their goodies, each received 50 taka. "For me?" More salutes, hand kisses, winks (from the bigger boys), "thank you's" and "Bye". Onto the buses, or rather into the buses. Two boys had to be removed from the top of their bus before it could leave. A quick scour of the club to see no-one had been left behind resulted in two lads found in the gents loo, hiding. "We want to stay here." "Just get on the bus."
The crows cleaned the tennis court. The BAGHA was tidied up. When the first club members arrived later they would never had known there had been a party. We were all a bit tired though. I bet the kids slept well in their shelters that night and I hope they had sweet dreams.
Thanks to the clubs, and the staff of each, and the NGOs, and the helpers, and the donors, and Bangla TV, and the Sprockets, and the bands, and the magician.