It is rare for my students to reveal their feelings. Their inner emotions remain embedded in an interior I will never touch. Their opinions are not shared. Their beliefs are held and do not need to be explained. I am the foreigner. I am the strange one. I am the one with the strange culture and strange world-view.
There is an impressive resilience and tolerance in Kenya that shakes me to my core. It is so humbling, wise, and eternal. I wear my emotions and passions very close to the surface, and they emerge unbidden with ease and confidence. They probably seem messy and loud and American.
I am jealous of Kenyan ease. I see an acceptance of the now that is free from stress and never apologizes for the now that is happening. It is hard to explain, the easy relationship with time that I experience as stress if I wear the wrong watch, my American watch. I now start every class by greeting students individually in Kiswahili and shaking the hand of every student. This takes time, and it is time well spent.
Now that I know that nothing is gained by starting on time I do not try to start on time. I wear my African watch, and start when the time is right. I am slowly gaining an understanding of this eternal relationship with time. Today. Tomorrow. Another time. It is right for this place, this day, this time.
I have asked a dozen students to work with me to create an original show that we will write together that I will direct. This will be my greatest opportunity for true understanding. I have asked the students to share their personal stories with me and it is clear that this has never happened before. I will be a caretaker for feelings and emotions not usually shared, and never shared publicly, or theatrically.
This is my research. This is why I am in Kenya. I always tell my students: ‘Start before you’re ready.’ I am about to start before I’m ready. I have a glimmer of an understanding of something, a hint, a hunch. I have lived here for two months to be at this moment. The name of my Fulbright research project is The Collapsible Space Between Us: Creating Artistic Identity through Theatre-Making in Kenya.
In 1899 W.B. Yeats explained what I have in common with my students better than I ever could:
“I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
We are daring to dream together, although we are still strangers. Tread softly. All of us.
I think my first rehearsal is this Wednesday. I do not know where my first rehearsal will be. My first rehearsal will start late. Cast members will be absent for the first rehearsal. I think the show will be performed on March 27.
I will thrive. The ground is fertile. I can’t wait to see what we make together.