I am a HUGE fan of storytelling and storytellers. Recently I saw a segment on the CBS Morning Show about storytellers and I thought how cool it would be to go to another storyteller event. I go whenever I hear of one — particularly around Halloween or when they feature ghost stories. But most storytelling is entertaining. If a person I know has had some exciting experience or recently returned from a journey abroad, I want to hear it!
So last night I was in sitting in bed and my son, who is 9 years old, was listening to me read “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba. The non-fiction narrative about the Malawian man’s life growing up in his community in Africa reads like a series of story telling sessions with personal anecdotes, fables, superstitions and family history. I try to read it in my best African accent – which after a while seems to get easier and easier to imitate. After I had read for an hour from William’s adventures, my son asked me to tell him one of his favorite stories from my youth – again!
The story was about how a few spider monkeys broke free of their cages in a fancy restaurant in Acapulco and slipped under our table without me or my two girlfriends being aware. Suddenly one one of my friend’s felt something yank at the long string of fake pearls around her neck and we looked under the table. The monkeys were besieging us and using their little hairy black paws (which were so much like hands, they even had tiny fingernails!) to grab at our necklaces and shiny jewelry. The waiters alerted by the commotion when the monkeys scampered out from under the table were alternately apologizing and being thwarted in their attempts to grab the monkeys. As you can imagine, there were drinks and trays going down, guests jumping out of the way, crying out in surprise, lots of shouts, “¡Aqui, aqui! No lo deja escapar!— Here, here! Don’t let it escape!”
After a wild chase that emptied out the kitchen, the monkeys, like very badly behaved children sentenced to a “time out” were gently scolded and returned to their cages. But they didn’t go quietly. Inside the cages they screeched stuck their long hairy black arms out and made rude gestures at everyone who passed by.
It’s not my best story, but for a nine-year-old it never gets old. He’ll probably remember it his whole life because he’s asked me to tell it at least a dozen times. That’s what is great about oral storytelling. It kind of sticks with you. I love the written word, I love how in books the words are just right, but I also love the spontaneity and life an oral storyteller can bring to a story.