May 28, 2010 § 4 Comments
In Kenya, it becomes a part of your daily psyche to assume every plan will go wrong, every meeting will start late, and anything that sounds easy or too good to be true is deserving of serious skepticism. With low expectations, the kinks arrive to readied hands and even the smallest successes are received with surprise and joy. This week from start to finish has been a karma comeback, exceeding all expectations!
The week and weekend were drenched with sun for a change! Last weekend we went to a new swimming creek, which by Pacific North West standards was cold, so you can imagine the hysteria that ensued. Their faces would transform from excited smiles to chest compressing fear as they attempted to submerge all together on the count of three. It was hilarious! After drying their shivers away with serious friction, they spent the rest of the day rolling down the grass hills of a large pasture area we hiked to.
On Tuesday I headed into Nairobi with hopes of buying and printing t-shirts, booking and finalizing a main act and M.C. for Day of the African Child within a thin budget, and returning home to a stack of poems from area schools in need of judging. The pursuit of each left me with a story to tell.
On Tuesday morning, Jane (my Kenyan guide and dear friend) led me to the industrial district of Nairobi to a t-shirt manufacturer called Brother Knitwear Factory, where she suspected we could buy t-shirts at wholesale. The matatu that takes one to the industrial district picks up in the true public of public markets, called Murthurwa. It’s as exciting to see as it is challenging to take in. The market area is shaded by a sea of massive, blue, sheet-metal shelters, each about the size of small home’s roof, standing on poles about thirty feet off the ground. Beneath each, vendors sitting on blankets, at tables, and in stalls fan out pyramids of limes, potatoes, green oranges, arrowroot, mangoes, pineapple, bananas, shoes, nail polish, jeans, weaves, knock off watches, and sunglasses, all to the piercing blare of music vendors, each trying to out-bump their neighbor! It is a loud and colorful place. The skirts of Muthurwa are home to a housing project built for the families and individuals displaced by the ’07 election violence. The first ‘unit’ we approached was marked ‘A1’ in huge white characters. It is a long concrete structure, the size of two commercial shipping containers stacked like an I, each with twenty front doors, opening to twenty cubes, like a storage unit. Each room is about 8×12 feet. A1 proceeds through H1, then A2 through H2, and so on. This continues through H8, totaling 1280 ‘homes.’ Between each bank of units are slanted slabs of concrete leading to a central drain. Stray dogs wander among the trash, around women doing laundry, barbers shaving heads, and children playing with whatever they can find. It leaves you asking why some are born into such destitute and others into distant luxury.
The industrial district is lined with a variety of manufacturers, each with tall walls, topped with shards of glass, and large gates, teaming with hopeful laborers. Brother Knitwear Factory was just as inviting. After passing through security, Jane and I were escorted into a horribly bright, florescent lit office just off the production floor, where the extraordinary whir of sewing machines was slightly muted. A Pakistani man, with heavy eyebrows and a cannonball for a head, sat behind a desk beside a framed picture of Jesus, Mary, and President Kibaki. He had two African men standing behind him, waiting to be handed an order, at which time they would literally run into a large stocking room, pack a box, and run it back. He discussed the weight and longevity of each shirt, we talked price, and in only a matter of minutes I had 100 green shirts.
Jane and I took them to a printer she knew of in the more ‘budget area’ of town, and by Wednesday morning we had effectively bought shirts, approved artwork, printed them, and they were ready for wear. An unlikely and savored success!
On Tuesday afternoon, after the industrial district and shirt drop off, Sarah and I went to the Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation, booked a popular morning radio host name Wamaruki as our M.C., and met with Beatrice Wangui, a popular Kikuyu musician. She offered to perform for 15,000 shillings, which was just below my budget ceiling, and we told her pending a meeting with Jimmie Gait, who is way out of our price range (usually charging 50 – 60 k), we would most likely be booking her as our headliner.
Sarah called Jimmie Gait and set up a dinner meeting. He showed up looking the part of a Boyz II Men character, looking very similar to the picture below, and Sarah proceeded to walk the fine line between my boss and a fanatical, rosy cheeked fan. Jimmie was very coy and reserved, wondering why he was here and what kind of people we were. As we explained Flying Kites and our mission with both the children and community, he didn’t ask many questions and didn’t speak much at all. I began to wonder how fruitful this attempt might be. We explained the event, our supremely thin budget, and our vision, highlighting that we were not being paid for our work and how much an appearance from him would mean to our children and to our community. Sarah and I were playing off one another like the extraordinary friends we’ve become, and after far too much ‘selling’ we shut up. He spoke very sparsely and with delicacy, said, ‘I don’t do my job because of the money. Money runs from those who chase it, and it chases those who run to what matters. That’s my motto. I’ll do it. I’ll do it for free. Why would I take money to serve my people, when you come from far away to serve them for nothing at all?” Sarah and I nearly fell out of our chairs smiling. Something like this happening seemed more of a joke than a real possibility. This meant so many things: our marketing efforts have a weight of their own, this will become national news, the money reserved for a main act could shift back into the operating costs of the orphanage, and we are about to have one hell of a party!
You’ll laugh, but watch this video! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYtu6CpJmzo
He has been nominated in the Groove Awards (East Africa’s Grammys) for male artist of the year, song of the year, songwriter of the year, and ringtone of the year. He just returned from Pakistan, performing with Wyclef. I think it’s all in the shades. The pinnacle of karma comeback!
I returned to Njabini on Thursday with t-shirts, an M.C., and the mother of main acts. On the bus, I received a text message from a woman named Ms. Mercy, who teaches English and runs the poetry club at a local, all-boys high school called Njabini Boys. She was hoping I would be able to come and thank the group for their submissions to the Day of the African Child Poetry Competition. She had no idea that I studied creative writing, loved to read and write poetry, and couldn’t possibly be more excited to speak to the group. I anticipated fifteen, maybe thirty boys, meeting for an after-school poetry club, so when we entered a dining hall hosting about eighty boys, I was shocked. Teacher Mercy introduced me with wonderful enthusiasm and I couldn’t have been more surprised and grateful for what was unfolding. She asked that I explain what poetry and music means to me and why learning to untangle a poem was worth the effort. I excitedly answered, and continued to explain that most people who write poetry don’t make any money from it until their old or dead, and that real poets are the people who write because it means something deep inside of them far more than money could lend. And whether it’s music or writing or futball or whatever it is that they love to do, they better do it hard and decide right now that they aren’t going to let other people change their love for it. It was yet another experience I might otherwise have only had in a dream. I could have talked for hours.
Teacher Mercy opened the floor to questions and the only boy who spoke asked if I’d read a poem I wrote – talk about getting put on the spot. I had two drafts I was working on, one about my grandma pat and one about the rain in Africa, both of which were rooted in images they could relate to, so I read to them. It was such a great feeling. I received a warm thank you and then a few of them who write songs and sing in an acapella group performed for me. It was both humbling and awesome. I was then invited to return for their next meeting to teach a lesson, workshop one-on-one with some of the writers, and be a part of their inspiring little club. I was totally shocked and honored by the whole experience.
This is the longest post I’ve written, so I’ll quit while some of you are hopefully still hanging on. I am excited in the next few weeks to carry you with me through the lead up and unfolding of our coming event. It will no doubt be a wonderful success for Flying Kites and for the community of Njabini. Thank you so much again for checking in on me!
There is no shortage of totally amazing things happening all around us and all the time. We just need to open our eyes to it!