Baobab, Tree of Life

It's all stories within a story. "The Baobab" is one of the biggest projects I've ever taken on. I don't know, it's hard to put dimensions on the scale of a project, but this one - I've been working on it for over a year already. Of course, it started with an idea. I wrote up a proposal to my supervisors, bringing up the idea of doing an app for the iPad - as a learning tool. They liked what they heard, ideas were exchanged and conversations took place. Then fast forward - a couple of months later - a sizable budget has been put aside for the development of an app. I then assembled a team. We would be developing THREE stories and I would be running the whole show. I'm excited. This is my dream project. I get to develop, design, and implement a children book on the iPad. I read a lot. Devoured every blog out there on the topic, ordered in books, scribbled furiously in my notebook, jotted down notes, and slowly things came together. From rudimentary notions of an interactive bilingual gestural interface (tap, tap-hold, swipe), it became real.

Now, that is a story - the start of a project. But, the story on hand here. "The Baobab" is an original story, developed first in American Sign language, through a team meeting. I pulled in three people i knew, who I believed would give something to the brewing pot of creativity. Wanda Riddle, Kristen Harmon and Bobbie Jo Kite. We basically sat down and started to create a story. What came out was none other but "The Baobab" and everyone contributed something to it. (The storyteller, the Artist, and the ASL adviser as well, in order, April Jackson-Woodard, Yiqiao Wang, and Ben Bahan.)

"The Baobab" basically revolves around the adventures of a curious little girl set in an almost mythical - a land of wonder. The girl happened to meet a travelling wise old man who shared a fruit with her and told her of a tree called the Baobab. He also heeds a warning to her not to go there, but of course, she ignores him. And the story begins. She gets herself an adventure, with a lesson in the end. This story is for young children, but is also a story for everyone. 

When I sat down with the story development team, I had just gotten back from a long wonderful trip to South Africa for the World Federation of the Deaf World Congress, and the Youth Camp. I spent a month there, and tucked in a week of exploration of the vast country. First stop after landing at the Johannesburg airport? Kruger National Park. It's an amazing place. You get your own car and drive yourself around in this gigantic safari park. Animals, from the galloping giraffes to the elusive rhinoceros, all them roam free. On this drive (with my sister and a friend), we spotted a sign saying THIS WAY TO THE BAOBAB TREE. That caught my attention. A sign for a tree? We decided we'd check it out. And we came to an absolutely gigantic, amazingly gigantic tree. It was absolutely huge, looking like several trees melded into one. That sight sunk deep into my subconscious. 

 Kruger National Park, South Africa, 2010

Kruger National Park, South Africa, 2010

So, fast forward to the story development. When the concept of a tree came up - something went off in my head. That's it! That's the Baobab! The little girl goes off to find the Baobab! Everything perfectly clicked into place. Real life imitating art, and art depicting real life.

But. I had to do my homework. What exactly does the Baobab mean? What sort of importance does it have? I googled the tree up, and started reading through legends and facts. The Baobab is considered "Tree of Life" by many tribes in the southern part of Africa (including Madagascar), because it grows a type of fruit, which attracts animals, and it tends to be hollow - preserving rainwater during droughts.

One Swahili tribe calls it the "Upside Down Tree" because according to legend - God was telling the trees where to grow, and it told the Baobab to grow at a spot. But the Baobab refused, saying it wants to grow at another spot. It angered God, so God took it and stuck it upside down. But it grew anyway. 

Some tribes follow a protocol, that if they were hunting an animal, and they happen to track it to the Baobab, they wouldn't kill the animal. It was meant to live.

The more I read on the Baobab, the more enthralled I became. And it made perfect sense to honor all the legends by placing the Baobab into this new frontier - developing bilingual & interactive storybooks for deaf children - encouraging learning to read. 

Tree of Life. It all fits.

 Kruger National Park, South Africa, 2010

Kruger National Park, South Africa, 2010