Community Intern Diary | Zain Dada #1

Zain Dada, our new Community Intern, tells some stories of his work with Nubian Life, a local care provider for African and Caribbean elders.

As part of the Bush’s commitment to local groups, the community associate company’s project is a way for local organisations to form long term and meaningful partnerships with the Bush Theatre.  Over a period of 9 months, these local groups or organisations will explore various art-forms with a lead artist before showcasing their work at the Bush and supported by the Bush.  As the new Community Intern, I was lucky enough to start my role on the two days that the first company associate, Nubian Life Resource Centre, showcased their final performance to friends, families and supporters.

nubian life elders shepherd's bush theatre

The Nubian Life Resource Centre is a Shepherd’s Bush based care provider for African and Caribbean elders with complex health issues. On the first day, I met the members of the Nubian Life Centre who had come to the Attic at the Bush to rehearse before the big performance.  The walls were adorned with the flags of their home Islands and countries.  The elders came from a variety of backgrounds, from Barbados and Guyana to Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica.  Many of the elders had come as part of the Windrush generation in 1948 leaving behind their homes to settle in a new land. As well as the flags, I helped put up questions for the audience to ask the elders before the showcase, from what Olga’s favourite nursery rhyme was to asking which elder in the group was one of the steel pan performers in the very first Notting Hill Carnival.

 “An elder in the group was one of the steel pan performers in the very first Notting Hill Carnival.”

The elders brought their enriching personalities, their wisdom and their love to the space as rehearsals began in anticipation of the big performance.  With Cressida Brown as lead facilitator, she was supported by Zozo who played drums and Alex who was a vocalist and guitarist.  The room was suddenly filled with the sound of Jamaican folk songs and more specifically calypso anthems with everything from Linfield Market to Mathilda which was once sung by the enigmatic Harry Belafonte.  The rhythm of the calypso anthems got some elders on their feet, including Dahlia, who was up and shimmying around to the co-ordinated claps of everyone in the room.  A lack of mobility did not stop shoulders shaking and smiles spreading as the showcase was beginning.  The calypso singing was a beautiful way to ease loved ones into the room.

The showcase was a combination of calypso singing, poetry performed by one of the facilitators, Sheba, on behalf of the elders, improvised question and answers and short films which provided the stories of the members of Nubian Life and how they ended up on this rainy Island from the Caribbean.  In the improvised question and answer session, I found that the wit of some of the elders was as sharp as ever with the answers to “what fruit would you be and why” as something too risqué to repeat in this blog.  Nevertheless, it was an afternoon of joy, love, smiles, wise insights and a room full of people sharing in the beauty of living despite all the struggles.

Amanda Castro, Sophie Nurse, Zain (me) and Olga

Amanda Castro, Sophie Nurse, Zain (me) and Olga

For me, one of the most profound insights was just that; the enormous levels of sacrifice elders made arriving as immigrants.  As a child of immigrants, this was something I reflected on most during the short film asking members of the Nubian Life about life in the UK when they’d just arrived.  This was something I’d heard about from reading history but to hear it first-hand made me think of the necessity of sharing our times with our elders – whether we are related by blood or not.  Haitian author Edwidge Danticat describes this most poignantly when she describes “all immigrants” as “artists” because “re-creating your entire life is a form of reinvention on par with the greatest works of literature”.

“It was an afternoon of joy, love, smiles and wise insights.”

I was tremendously grateful I could share the space with the Nubian Life Centre.  Though it was bittersweet that my first two days as Community Intern at the Bush were at the end of this particular project, I hope it isn’t the last time I interact with this magical group.  One particular piece of advice will stick with me; when I’d asked one of the elders, Olga, “sorry Olga, could I move you along to this other seat,” she replied, “don’t apologise for something you need to do, son.”

Find out more about the Bush Theatre’s community associate companies and how you can get involved in projects.