Tuesday, August 29, 2006

At the Writer's Festival with the girls

There was some doubt expressed when I told the other staff I was hoping to take my small ESL group to the Melbourne Writers' Festival. Would their English be up to it? I wasn't sure, myself, how it would turn out. But I wanted to take them to hear Melina Marchetta, whose novel, LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI, they were slowly making their way through - and it would be a day out and something they normally didn't do.

In the end, the boys didn't go. Ibrahim had a medical appointment. Majang just doesn't like excursions, no matter what, and had turned down a much more important one, to Collingwood TAFE.

"Who needs you?" the girls teased, and we went, Amani, Ranya, Achol, Noura and me, along with another class which was going to the Rialto in Melbourne, to see the view and do some measurements (it was Maths Extension class). We had to stand up in the train nearly all the way, packed in like herrings. We reached town early, though later than I had expected, and went for lunch at one of several fast food joints along the way, as the food at the Festival is expensive. They all upsized their meals; only Ranya realised she'd never get through it and offered me some chips, but I was full already. And then we took a stroll along the street and I suddenly remembered I was with sixteen-year-old girls. They fell with cries of delight on the first clothes shop, though they didn't overdo it. Noura, who is the most "girly" of them, kept stopping to drool over shoes in windows - the others dragged her out of a clothes shop, because we really needed to get to the festival on time. We climbed on the No.1 tram to South Melbourne and found ourselves there early.

I sent the girls out into the sun for a while, because the staff couldn't find our tickets. Finally, they simply printed us out some more, and I joined my students at a table outside. I bought them all some drinks - fruit juice in interesting-looking bottles - and then we strolled into the theatre. As we were the first there we were asked to go to the front row, where we sat, waiting for the session to start.

The usual interview which is done by a student on the students days at the festival had been replaced by a full-length talk by the author. She wanted to promote her new novel, which has just come out, but realised that the audience wanted to hear about her other two books, so went through them all and read from the new book. Then she answered questions, which were fairly predictable ones, such as "What's your favourite of the books?" and "How do you feel about the different ending of book and movie?".

I glanced over at the girls, who also glanced at me. Two of them had shut eyes, but when we left, they were talking enthusiastically about the presentation and discussing what she had said - and they teased me that I had fallen asleep! (Not this time - I have been known to do it, but this time I was listening carefully in case they had questions or wanted clarification).

As we stood on the tram, they even noticed someone had bought a copy of the new book. The train to Sunshine was less packed than the one to the city and we found seats together.

Today they were telling everyone what a good time they had. Nice! One successful experiment.

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