We arrive at Charter Hall at 10.30 and encounter a group of about 50 – 70 young people sat in the hall, waiting. All sorts of memories, half snatched ideas, hunches and rumours fade in and out consciousness throughout the time here…. Heart of Darkness, Out of Africa…
I have a brief chat with Albert Opamo Barasa about the role of the arts in developing groups. He runs a club which helps people see beyond the tribe: realigning relationships and developing understanding that people are interdependent and rely on each other for trade. This echoes a large article in the paper lamenting the lack of independence since the declaration of the same: pointing out how dependent the country still was but without perhaps recognising that everyone’s in the same boat: we’re all interdependent.
John, the chairman of KCGF, arrives explaining that cash donations are not a good idea. I agree as we’re spending money on transport and juice at the moment so I need to see what’s left. Allegedly he has flown in from up-country via, according to Jackson, a chartered jet. Through the day John proceeds to tell me that if we want anything done, he is the main man to fix it. This is hugely ironic given our last morning in the country when he’s driving us to the airport: the car runs out of petrol, leaving us stranded temporarily in the middle of a security zone. He later takes a wrong turning to the airport, gets lost and takes about 3 hours to do what is a 45’ car ride.
Stanley urges us to plan for the need to talk to other artists and hints at the disorganisation of the programme. I think I say I know what you’re referring to but you can never be too sure that you know what you think you’ve said, and that others have heard what you think you said: or indeed if there’s any correlation between what I want to say, what I actually say, what you think you’ve heard, and what you actually heard.
Albert’s group is relating the narrative piece of the programme, based on a Massai culture story and they need a microphone. God knows why. Do they use mics in the desert? Savannah? Up the Rift valley?
“When the Saints come marching in” is now steadily and mechanically played out on the electronic key board besides me. Perhaps an echo of a church room somewhere? Something these guys sing every Sunday? The PA has materialised and is steadily being assembled. A memory of the song sung at St Filomena’s to the effect of… ‘you can do whatever you like, but if you don’t believe in Jesus, it’s all in vain, all in vain..’
It’s all purposeless, based in vanity, self glory. The kids in white and grey are Filomenas kids with their teachers at the back of the room somewhere although perhaps they’ve come with the pastor: a figure right out of the Adams Family if ever there was one. Filomena’s group start off with the small mime about a heart operation. There’s a visual, graphic disembowelling of a patient by a doctor who throws the patient’s heart out the front door.
Leakage was a theme for this Nairobi week: money leaking out of one person’s hands to another; leaking into exaggerated bills; something is placed on the table and it leaks into someone else’s pocket; peoples loyalty to one organisation leaks away the moment some other organisation offers them a better pay deal; invariably leakage applies to anything financial but it applies to agreements too (I agreed to pay for 3 days care hire, not 5); and organisation (the schedule didn’t stop leaking the moment we set our feet on Kenyan soil.)
What I might have said at the end of the ‘conference’ , but didn’t as the opportunities to talk with the groups continued to leak away through the afternoon was to:
Filomena’s group and the young patient who had his guts ripped out but made a miraculous recovery: this is a sign of hope.
Albert’s student and his Mr President Sah monologue: there was no need for the mic. Your voice is strong enough to carry and the message you carry is already amplified when you are at the front of the stage. This is a sign of hope.
The Nairobi School performance and the burning of the house where the family were hiding tells us more that any CNN broadcast can ever do: this is a sign of hope.
The Muslim orphanage and the spirited dance and recital of the poems by the groups youngest member, a three year old, two foot tall girl: this is a sign of hope.
The Massai Narrative group and the humour of the big bulls, the willing udders and the ‘mauing’ of the missungu cows: these are signs of hope in the humour which can be shared with all audiences, black, asian, missungu.
Instead of “conference”, we might better write ⎣Conference⎤ – an event which leaks intention, direction, purpose, so that all meaning of the word has leached out.
This is not the same as the knowing, nudge nudge irony of the “conference” terminology as “XXX” implies, ‘oh yeah?’ or ‘so you say’ or ‘allegedly’: a kind of cynical superiority signage.
⎣XXX⎤ means leakage of meaning of the term in the brackets. It doesn’t question the sincerity of the owner or user but knows that before too long, meaning and value will actively, visibly drain away in an inexorable perhaps irreversible process.