As a result of David Ambrose’s visit to Uzbekistan where he accompanied Lynne Denman, who was singing in the Taronalari International Music Festival in Samarkand , Beyond the Border has begun to develop significant contacts in the region. Working with the British Council, we were able to persuade them to include storytellers Megan Lloyd and Francis Maxey in a week of seminars about teaching English that took place in Tashkent in December.
Francis has written an account of the trip for us.
Our brief for this trip was to perform in front of a number of very different audiences ranging from students to Vice Chancellors and government ministers. However, on our first day in Tashkent we discovered two things. First the enthusiasm of the teachers wasn’t going to let us get away with just storytelling. They wanted to know what it was we do and how it could be of use to them in their teaching of English. The debate that ensued over lunch lead to Megan and I restructuring our shows for the teachers to include ideas for the practical use of storytelling in English teaching.
Second we discovered Plov, the national dish of Uzbekistan. It’s a rice dish that has gathered so many myths and legends around itself that if we were to look for a storytellers food it would have to be Plov. It is also said to be a potent aphrodisiac.
Our first show was at the International Business Centre, an impressive modern glass building, to an audience of about 200 hundred degree students. It soon became apparent that they had not come across contemporary storytelling before. They found the performance fascinating. In fact this was to be the reaction from most of our audiences. The Uzbeks know of their own epic storytellers but here were traditional stories being told in a modern voice for people of today. Such was the enthusiasm of the students in our last show at the Lyceum that they cheered in the middle of stories.
At the University of Tashkent English Department we were to present a 2 hour long show to over 300 hundred students in a large cold hall. The time was luckily reduced by speeches and the presentation of flowers. A young woman who played the dutar also joined us on stage. The Dutar is a two stringed lute and for such a simple seeming instrument she made it sing.
On our last full day in Uzbekistan we went back to the business centre to present a short show at a round table discussion on English teaching. All day the Vice Chancellor and rectors of university had been in discussion with experts and the British Council; then for the last 20 minutes we turned up. Our stories went through a Russian translation into the earphone of the delegates seated at a huge horseshoe-shaped table with their aides sat behind them. It felt a little like addressing the UN.
One idea that I picked up at the conference, put forward by the representative from University of East Anglia, was that English should no longer be classed as a foreign language in the world – instead it should be promoted as a tool that all people in the future must have.
Our storytelling was a great success at the conference. The professionals were introduced to a useful technique and audiences heard English being used in an informal and enjoyable way. Storytelling presented by experienced tellers could be very useful to English teachers around the world.
We spent 7 days in Uzbekistan. Most evenings the British Council entertained us, or local people invited us to their homes. Young people gave up their own time to show us around their city. Teachers invited us out with their families on trips. So Megan and I would like to thank all of the people we met and the friends we made.