I am Anna Leonowens, too

The other day I was imagining what it might be like in the Andean villages I will be visiting in January, thinking about the times when the children will get brave and approach us. I am told they will come forward eventually, though the women will hang back. How could I pique their interest in us outsiders? How could I win their hearts, at least as much as possible in a short visit?

I started thinking of the universal appeal of music and wondered if my singing a tune or two might bring them forward. I was driving the forty-minute commute to pick my son up from school (yes, that’s an outlandish trek, I know.) Anyway, I began to sing some songs that I know by heart, thinking about which might be suitable. Hmmm, that one might do. No not that one. How does that other one go?

And then I began to sing a song I learned twenty-six years ago, the summer before my senior year in high school when I was Mrs. Anna in a community production of The King and I. You might know the song, but just in case you don’t here are some of the words:

Whenever I feel afraid
I hold my head erect
And whistle a happy tune
So no one will suspect
I’m afraid.

While shivering in my shoes
I strike a careless pose
And whistle a happy tune
And no one ever knows
I’m afraid.

The result of this deception
Is very strange to tell
For when I fool the people
I fear I fool myself as well!

I whistle a happy tune
And ev’ry single time
The happiness in the tune
Convinces me that I’m not afraid.

Make believe you’re brave
And the trick will take you far.
You may be as brave
As you make believe you are

You may be as brave
As you make believe you are

And then it was like someone bonked me on the head. I’M ANNA! I’m going to Peru and, let’s face it, Peru might as well be nineteenth-century Siam as far as I’m concerned … it’s so different from my world. I’m going there to try to do some good (not to Westernize the “uncivilized,” like Anna, but education is a part of both our missions and you get what I mean, right?) And here’s the funny thing: Anna’s advice still rings true.

Pretend that you’re brave and pretty soon you’ll convince yourself that you ARE brave.

Weird. I’ve been feeling since then … er … brave.

Seriously. I’m not kidding.

So … I’m going to Peru in January.


P.S. If you want to find out more about the real Anna Leonowens, try this site for her fascinating story: http://womenshistory.about.com/library/bio/blleonowens.htm

P.P.S. When I was right at the start of my first PhD qualifying exam, the bell tower on campus began playing this song. I laughed out loud and then went on to pass four four-hour exams with flying colors. Is this some kind of theme song for my life?! What a coincidence….


4 Responses

  1. Great post! Using music as a way to reach out to the people you’ll be meeting is a lovely idea. As far as the issue of fear goes, getting up on stage and singing Anna in The King and I is a pretty fearless thing to do. (I’ve always loved that movie and grew up listening to the soundtrack.) You’re going to have a wonderful trip!

  2. Yes, I hope that I’ll get the chance to make some contact with the villagers. We shall see!

    I hadn’t thought about my work in the play as fearless, but now that you mention it, I guess it was brave. I do remember being very nervous, yet I managed the performances fine. I suppose the trip to Peru will be like that, too.

    Thanks for the comment! You made me think 🙂

  3. Ha! I remember you as Anna! What a great flashback. Who knew that the fun and frivolity of our youth could have such meaning later on? I’m a teeny bit jealous over this trip…

  4. Yes, it’s funny how things we do take on a whole other dimension of meaning so many years later. I remember being disappointed that I did not get the role of Sandy in the other summer production of Grease but became Mrs. Anna in The King and I instead. In reality, I was more suited to the Anna role. I guess the director knew best 🙂

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