Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Mission Impossible

Picture the scene -we've squeezed out our rehearsal time for the Grand Prix to the absolute last minute. The Grand Prix is where the top choirs in the competition are awarded their prizes for whatever category they have won and the overall winner is announced. No one knows beforehand who has won what awards. All one knows is that one has done well in order to be asked to perform in the Grand Prix.

A makeshift rehearsal venue in our hotel basement had been set up for the rehearsal. Sweaty boys are coming screaming into the hotel lobby and are literally being thrown Macdonalds by staff and are told not to shower but to get changed and get straight onto the bus. It is chaos. Chips are spraying like salty fountains (all over the hotel floor) and boys are madly jamming elevator buttons in order to speed up the process.

It is in this chaos that my phone starts ringing. It is Sqaliso. His voice is strained. 'Ma'am we're stuck on the elevator.' I reply, 'What? Like the elevators aren't coming down from the sixth floor?' 'No ma'am, we're stuck ON the elevator.'

Stage 1. Denial

'Are you sure Squirrel? Is it seriously not moving. Are you sure you haven't stopped momentarily?'
'Maam we are really stuck. It isn't moving.'
Several boys pummel out of an elevator, half chewed burgers in their mouths, red gumboots knocking out some nearby Indians.

Stage 2. Anger

I march to the reception desk and inform them of what has happened. Some wild scuffling. I then go back to the four lobby elevators. But they all seem to be working. They continue to spew frantic boys from their bowels but no sign of Squirrel. Where are they?

A message comes through with a list of names of boys stuck on the elevator - Ngcobo, Baso, Mabude, Habile, Hughes, Correia, Makhatini, Zungu, Zulu and Ganas.

'Where are our boys?' I angrily inquire. The flustered receptionist replies that our boys are stuck on the maintenance elevator outside the hotel. They had obviously spotted it in the basement and thought it would be the quickest way from point A to B.

By this point, news has spread to the rest of the staff and boys. Their maintenance people are not going to be able to fix this, they have had to phone the elevator company. With rising frustration we ask how long this is going to take. Messers Botha and Lombard continue loading boys onto buses while Brett Albor and I set off to try and find this elusive elevator.

Stage 3. Bargaining

A dash across the hotel parking lot into the hottest stairwell in the world and we find the elevator, its information panel eerily blank. This is a dead lift. I start to call out to the boys and they can just hear me. They respond and the tension is palpable.

'Boys emergency services are on their way. They should be here in a few minutes. I promise we'll get you out soon.' I then offer to sing to them - I was thinking of 'Raindrops on Roses' but they decline my offer.

I pull up a chair and sit right next to the elevator. People come and go. An attempt is made to force the doors open. It is unsuccessful. We continue to wait.

For those who are parents out there the feeling I'm about to describe will be familiar to you. It's that feeling you get in the middle of the night when your child cries out to you because they are worried and you know that no matter how tired you are you will do anything to comfort them. That's how I felt. As the first hour ticked past I would hear the occasional 'Ma'am are you still there?' To which I would reply, 'Yes my boys I'm here. I'm not going to leave you.' Never have other people's children felt more like my own.

I would also occasionally hear the odd burst of laughter - it was clear that these boys were not going to let this break them. Our boys were drawing on every ounce of their comedic selves to keep spirits buoyed.

Stage 4. Depression

By this point, we started getting messages from South Africa (who at the time were actually able to watch the live streaming) to say that the show had already started. We then contacted Marshell to say that they were going to have to make a Plan B. Bearing in mind that two of our major drummers - Ganas and Hughes were stuck as well as several main gumboot dancers Plan B was going to have to seriously wing it.

Brett and I just stood, fighting the feeling of defeat, utterly desperate that we couldn't do more.

The elevator specialist finally arrived, from the looks of his condition I would guess that he ran all the way from wherever he came. He managed to force the door open but, to our dismay, we discovered that the elevator was stuck between two floors.

Another eternity passed while a new plan was hatched.

The technician then climbed down the elevator shaft onto the roof of the the elevator and tried to pry the ceiling open. We watched, sweat dripping down our necks, as his efforts were in vein, the ceiling would not budge.

Stage 5. Acceptance

Earlier on in the evening Brett found the security room that has a camera in the elevator. With an utter feeling of hopelessness I followed him into the little security cubicle and watched our boys.

Again, another parenting thing... You know when you arrive early to pick your child up from school and it offers you the opportunity to watch your child secretly and you are just overwhelmed by such a feeling of pride that it catches your breath? Well that's how I felt.

There were our boys, so packed in the elevator that there was no room to move and they were stoically chatting and encouraging each other. There was a total sense of peace and absolute trust that we would make a plan to rescue them. There was no hysteria, no drama, just absolute steadfast resilience and faith.

By this point the entire choir were sending messages of beautiful love and faith over our chat group and I was astounded by their fortitude. They had managed to make a plan and had accepted that their brothers would not be joining them on stage. It was in that moment that I couldn't have cared less if our boys had come stone last, because in that moment, all of them became champions to me.

Brett handed me the elevator phone so that I could speak to the boys and I told them I could see them. There were suddenly nine beautiful faces staring around wildly trying to find the source of the camera and many smiles to us when they knew that we were watching over them. I then started to pray. And as I ended my prayer the hotel manager ran in to say that they had found a way to release the brake of the elevator to get them to the second floor and free them.

A miracle.

Brett and I ran faster than we've probably ever run (not that Brett and I do much running), screaming up the stairs in time to watch our boys be freed. If you have watched the footage of that moment, my hysterical screaming is the main soundtrack to the clip. There are no words to describe how Brett and I felt.

Those boys got up and down six flights of stairs in record time and our bus driver probably broke every traffic law in Singapore to get us to the Grand Prix venue.

We started hitting red traffic lights so we prayed that God would open up the road for us and we literally hit green lights for the rest of the way. Brett and the boys sprinted off to the backstage area as Bonita and I shakily made our way to our seats.

And the boys got there in time. I still can't believe it. They spent a total of one hour and 45 minutes in the lift.

And they performed beautifully.

And they won the Folklore Category with the highest score in the whole competition of 92.2% and they came second in the Category B (Equal voices - Youth) with a score of 81.3%.

But their real moment of victory came before this, it came on a broken, hot elevator when nine boys still found reason to smile and have faith despite their (almost) impossible mission.

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