Professor Zippy Okoth shares her thoughts as she arrives from Kenya for the first time for the Kenyatta University/University of Cincinnati Exchange.
Last year, early last year, when I first met Prof. Richard Hess, a visiting Professor from the University of Cincinnati, something quite naturally got me very excited. First coz He was a Professor of Theatre Arts something I was working really hard to be… When I met him I was still struggling with my PhD, doing the final corrections on my work. I didn’t want to disturb him, but unknown to him I was his silent student. Sometimes going behind Harambee Hall just to watch his classes for 20mins or so. Sometime asking the students how his classes were and the only response was ‘amazing’ they liked him. (I sort of felt jealous, that maybe they liked him more than me.) Am a girl, I need the liking. Hess was good with the students. They lit up when they saw him. He was truly theatre. Amazing! That was his magic word. Amazing!
Professor Hess was now the second Professor of Theatre Arts I was meeting in my life after Prof.Jane Plastow of Leeds University. I didn’t mingle much with Prof.Hess when he was in Kenya but I did a few bits here and there to make his stay easier. Sometimes I had to get other classes out of the rooms He needed to use for they could just take his teaching space, sometimes I had to book for him performance space. I remember one student Christine Njeri asking me to assist Hess coz they needed rehearsal spaces. I went to ask Hess and he said they were fine, perhaps I didn’t ask well…. Or he was being modest. Christine pushed me to go ahead and get them the rehearsal spaces and I organised that asap, silently. Hess was a student person. He loved the students and he formed the kumi na mbili troupe. A group of talented students that he instinctively picked. He was brilliant. He created with them a short performance on viewpoints. Our students were not conversant with view points. They were 2nd years and were still juggling with Theatre for development from a distance. They did well. I was amazed, we were amazed. Hess had broken the ice. He had given a piece of himself to the students. They wanted more of it but he had to leave the country. I remember watching the performances by the directing class, and the students did achieve what I believe to be the epitome of character development: letting go, free spirit of emotions and movement. They had achieved believable acting. They were real real real….. Hess had let the students be free to experiment and experience the space of performance in mind and place.
Most of all Hess created friendships. I bonded with Hess as a colleague just when He was about to leave the country. At least we chat once with him together with a few of my students one evening. He was a warm Person. At that moment, as He was leaving to go back to the USA. All I was greatful for was having a chance to be a colleague to a Professor of Theatre Arts…more, from a university ranked leading in drama. I wanted to know more. To be more. To learn more. But that was all it was then.
So this year April, when Dr. Mugubi, the Chair our department informed me that Professor Hess had requested for me to be Chaperone to the students He was inviting to Cincinnati, I had my fears, my excitement, the child in me blew up. I cried and laughed. I called Christine Njeri and Masese Sarah to tell them the news (sometimes I forget who is the lecturer or older when am with these two, friends forever). We were travelling with Christine and a few others. The planning had to start immediately. I was scared if I could manage to assist Hess ensure everything went well from Kenya to enable the students and I travel. There was too much paperwork, University permission, students getting passports, Visa processing and anxiety. I had to play mother, sister, teacher and friend. I had to be nice and harsh sometimes. I had to call Professor with 1000 emergencies when I cdn’t hack it. Hess was a pillar. He says at one point he broke down, but he did that after ensuring our emergency was cleared. He sorted the finances and the accommodation and the VISA, he called the embassy when he needed to, when we had delays, he managed the flights and changed schedules last minute and picked us from the airport.
He is Richard Odero Hess. We have named him ‘Odero’ to mean ‘granary’ ‘giver of goodness’ Hess has given himself to organizing this trip in a big way, sourcing for funds for all this! As I write this we have just checked at the Hampton-Hilton Suites. All the seven of us. We are happy, tired, excited, and thankful. That we were chosen. That we are here. That we will meet them. We will meet Hess children/students, friends, colleagues and Americans. We are here now. And we can only but “Imagine the Possibilities.”
Thanks Richard Odero Hess. You are one in a Million.
– Guest contributor: Dr. Zippy Okoth, Kenyatta University,
Department of Theatre Arts and Film Technology