30 May, 2014
There is a full size Kenyan flag blowing in the wind in my courtyard in Newport, Kentucky.
On 27 March, 2014 we shared KUMI NA MBILI, an original show about Kenyan identity written and performed by 12 Kenyan students from the Department of Theatre Arts and Film Technology at Kenyatta University, with an audience of 200 at Harambee Hall. It was an electric night in Kenya. I was so proud of the simplicity, honesty, and integrity on display in students/actors who had never performed a piece quite like this ever in their lives. They were open, present, and grounded. They were enough. They shared hopes, dreams, memories, and loves. They talked about being Kenyan. They sang. They danced. They got wet. They united.
The next day, on 28 March, 2014 we traveled to PAWA 254 in Nairobi, where I had rented the roof for the afternoon. I was hoping to have a video record of the show, and I thought the film-maker would set up a camera and shoot the show simply and quickly.
Instead, the talented and generous Kenyan film-maker Samwell Soko spent three hours with the cast shooting the show in take after take, like a film, from many angles. This created sound challenges, and was a time challenge; a band who had rented the roof next was hovering as we finished our complicated attempt at capturing this original show with the Nairobi skyline as our background. He spent a month editing the footage into something new and I am so proud of the results.
One of my favorite sections was prompted by asking the actors to finish the phrase: I REMEMBER. Wherever you are in the world, you will recognize your story, our sameness, through the humanity of universal similarities and differences.
Virginia: I remember my childhood.
Bonventure: I remember things that hurt.
Kelvine: I remember how excited I was when I was admitted to Kenyatta University.
David: I remember Mom crying when she had a fight with my Dad over what I should be doing in the university. Though to me she was wrong, I truly felt it.
Dennis: I remember everyone who has impacted my life positively.
Levis: I remember when I was young together with my elder brother, sister and a cousin when we ate some toxic mushrooms; we were in hospital unconscious for two weeks. The funny thing is, that although they were bitter, we washed them and still ate them together with boiled green bananas.
Virginia: I remember when my brothers and I were young and my father asked each of us to sing a song to him. No one was supposed to repeat a song. Apparently we only knew two songs. My elder brother sang the first song and my second brother sang the second song. I was left with no song to sing, so I composed a new song at the age of three years.
Dennis: I remember when I was young and loved being a DJ, and everybody enjoyed what I played for them, let alone the childish announcements I made via the microphone.
Phoebe: I remember the first time I joined high school I woke up at 3am going to school thinking that it was 6am because I was so anxious to wear my new shoes.
Mwangangi: I remember my first kiss at my early age in form one. I swear that night I never ate. I was already full.
Kelvine: I remember the beating I was given by my parents when they discovered I was involving myself in love affairs before finishing my form four.
Christine: I remember the first day I met my boyfriend.
Austin: I remember being caned 72 strokes by my deputy head teacher in high school. I was stroked 20 times over the 5 minute short break, 30 times over the long break and 22 over lunch break all by him in bits as if it was a medics prescription.
Christine: I remember one time when my dad was so mad at me that he actually stoned me! Yes, my own father.
Muriithi: I remember drinking alcohol in excess in a house party and vomiting badly and forgetting myself for two hours . . . oh I was messed up.
Jean: I remember working as a labourer on a construction site, walking 23km to and from for five good months, taking tea but reaching the job already hungry. Oh it was such an experience.
Austin: I remember on my 18th birthday, I was still in high school, and I got wet the whole day. Guys poured water on me whenever they met me.
Enjoy watching this exciting short film. It captures a moment, and it captures a spirit and energy. The 12 actors captured a piece of my heart and I am deeply grateful.
We danced to the last two minutes of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ Can’t Hold Us twice, once in the middle of the piece and once at the end. We danced in a circle. There were 4 leaders, and we never set what would happen. The leader was allowed to do anything and the others had to follow. I was interested in sharing connection and joy more than good dancing. Like the ceiling can’t hold us.
Enjoy the smiles. Enjoy this truth.
Hear these voices.
For Austin, Jean, Muriithi, Bonventure, Mwangangi, Christine, Babu, Dennis, Phoebe, Kelvine, Virginia, and Levis and kumi na tatu- Bryan.