This post contains two reflections for an assignment–one about a choreo-dance performance of Mia Couto’s “The Birds of God,” and one about a TED talk by David Damburger on what happens when an NGO (non-governmental organization) admits failure.
I thought the performance of Mia Couto’s “The Birds of God” was stunning. When I heard that it was going to be a choreo-dance performance, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I had certainly enjoyed reading the short story the night before. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was about on a deeper level, but I knew I enjoyed the descriptive language and the story itself.
The performance added a new element to the story: the short story was read aloud by a narrator and a few actors (for the voice of the main character and his wife), but most of the performance starred dancers. I loved the pairing of the music with the dances–in happy scenes, the music was upbeat, and in quieter scenes, the music was softer and more gentle. The dancers were incredibly talented, especially those who played the first male bird as well as the main character, Timba. I found it interesting that I didn’t find myself guessing which dancers were portraying which characters–they way they moved told Couto’s story elegantly and with impressive clarity. After the show, it was especially interesting to hear Couto speak to the audience, and I was glad that he found the performance as compelling and complementary to his story as I did. Really, it was just an incredibly impressive combination of talent: the speakers, the dancers, the musicians (pre-recorded, but still), as well as Couto’s writing, of course, transformed the short story into something truly enjoyable and interesting.
I appreciated this TED talk, much more than the one by Peter Singer about effective altruism. This one seemed much more candid and raw, and it didn’t seem to insist on making people feel guilty. David Damburger, the speaker, even seemed to be having a bit of a hard time doing the talk, because it focused on the failure of a group he worked with extensively. I think it’s important, though, that people like Damburger are sharing their stories about failure in international aid program. Slowly, his story and others’ stories are changing the way we think about NGO’s and international aid programs. We’re starting to see them in a more negative light, but I think that’s okay. We’re learning to become healthily skeptical of these organizations and cautious about where we give our money and our time. I don’t think this is selfish (as Peter Singer might have his audience believe) but rather, it shows some conscientiousness in the way we’re thinking about helping others. Of course, we all want to help people–we want kids in Malawi to have clean drinking water–but we want to make sure that the way we help is actually helpful. I’m glad David Damburger gave this TED talk, because once we’re educated about what international organizations actually do (and how they sometimes fail), we can start helping people in a more conscientious, long-term-focused way.