Journey To Mali P4 -Coconut Trees

My first impression of Mali, is the road from the airport. It is lined with Neem trees, so I busy myself explaining to my hosts that they are called Mwarubanne at home because they are said to cure 40 diseases. My French is stiff and very broken, but I have found that most of the people I meet have a great inclination to understand what I’m saying. Together, we bandage and package the misconjugated verbs and put splints between nouns to communicate, not just effectively, but aminatedly. By the end of the first day, I am convinced, half the time, that I can speak French. By the end of the first day, I am head over heals in love with Bamako. Neem trees are not the only sights there are in common with Mombasa. Coconut trees are everywhere, shrubs which have enormous faded green leaves spot the sides of the roads. Flat roofed buildings dominate the architecture, the weather is hot, not as humid as Mombasa but more humid than Nairobi.

Swarms of motorbikes (les moto) habitually swerving, like the cars, through the traffic, like a flash flood, creating upredictable paths. Men and women ride motorbikes here, wave after wave of colour swim around you. The low back lines the local dress design is mesmerizing, bright red, yellow and green, bright orange is also a popular coulor. Flared sleeves flapping in the breeze of sacheing speed. The men wear white and gold, Kanzu-like attire. Traffic here, has it’s own rhythm, in order to understand how to dance to it, it would be wise to forget everything you’ve been taught about staying within the lines, or else assume, that no one else was taught it. Here, it seems like you need only follow a straight line when overtaking, moving in waves, slightly left, slightly right seems to be the default procedure.

The people are stunning, everywhere I look I see defined cheek bones, faces that light up with beautiful smiles and toned bodies are in plenty. Wearing traditional attire seems as normal as wearing uniforms and western style clothing. The shapes of sleeves and the waist line are individual, each with their own curvatures and folds, the designs are flamboyant and expressive.

When I passed through Nigeria, there were many comments on my hair. With the levels of heat here, the length of my braids is not practical I will cut them, sooner, rather than later. Dread locks here come in shapes that stand and curve with defenition that would make a person identifiable by their siloet. They appear naturally nurtured, unlike Nairobi where the slightest amount of growth is swiftly silenced by a trip to the salon. Although it does seem like people who have professions which are not artistic have the same array of ‘normal’ hair styles that there are at home.

When I was much younger, my mum and dad would read books to me. They both used different voices for the different characters. The stories would come alive in my mind, those were the days. I remember the murmuring of the trees in the costal Diani winds. In Bamako, for the first time in my life, I found trees that stood absolutely still. There is no wind.

The airline I sent my suitcase with decided to leave my suitcase in Nairobi. So I had to make do with what was in my hand luggage to freshen up at the hotel, before setting off to meet the Malian artists.

They were waiting at CCGM, The Goethe Institutes headquarters in Bamako.

They were introduced to the project, the same way we were, except, in French. Just like in Nairobi, the contestants are stunning. Perhaps I am preprogrammed to find poets beautiful. 🙂 Half of them are students at the Performance Arts School, most of the rest have graduated from that same school.  After the summary of what is expected, we all sit to watch the three videos of the top three performances from Nairobi, so they can choose a theme.  Wanjiku Mwaura makes me cry again, but I manage to hide it well enough, because everyone is fixated on her performance on screen. By the end of the viewing session, the contestants are happily repeating; “Do not say goodbye to the Mau Mau”. I feel proud to be the one to say, ” ils sont les combattants de liberté ” , they are the freedom fighters. A piece of Kenyan history will remain here when I leave. 🙂

Now, poetry is an interesting thing. It is based in a language, but takes liberties with it. It acknowledges grammatical rules, and ignores them. It picks up sayings, turns them inside out and presents them to represent more, in less words. I successfully manage to translate the topics and storylines of all three poems. Translating the line by line content is much much more difficult. Here, the language barrier raised it’s head at me and stared me straight in the eye. Being poets themselves, they want to understand content, so they can base their theme on ours as was required. The meeting is concluded with a decision to meet the following day, with an English teacher.

After a series of “bonne soirée”s I head back to my hotel.

Journey To Mali P3, Kenyan Timing

So, this  morning I was scheduled to fly to Bamako Mali, as you must already know.

I missed my flight. Having spent the night fretting about what I may forget and have I got everything I need, that I managed to forget what may well have been the most important thing: my phone on silent. So, running late as I was, I checked in online, thinking; with a prayer, I’ll still make this flight.

The taxi who took me did everything in his power to save us time on route, Langata road traffic was not being too bad, but that still means traffic. As we pass the bypass, on our dual carriage section, on our way to turn around I spot a police car and bike. I told him, that if we use the Uhuru Gardens entry to turn back to the bypass, we have to actually turn into Uhuru Gardens, then exit it ( I know someone who recently got nabbed for using that entry to do a “U turn”). In a rush moment of bravery, he decided to go for the U turn. Just as I had predicted we were flagged down.

One hour later we are leaving Langata police station. As we drive past City Kabanas, my call to Kenya Airways confirms that I have in fact missed my flight. The Goethe Institut, in their heroic fashion, found out what else was possible. I committed without a second thought, to whatever flight would take me to Bamako fastest.

As it turns out, that means, a twelve hour stop over in Lagos, and three connecting flights. Under normal circumstances, that’s a bad thing. As it turns out, I am so at home here at Murtala Muhammed Airport, that I’m writing this, sitting on a couch, that I can choose to nap on if I please. I feel at home in more ways than I can describe, but I will attempt.

Eavesdropping doesn’t seem so bad when you don’t understand the language. 🙂 When I got off the plane I found, like at home, that smiles are as easy to get as they are to give. I am so exited, that the reception I am receiving from fellow passengers, crew and airport staff is very happy. Conversations in the languages here sound like the ones at home.  Serious intonations punctuated by smiles and laughter. Happy, flirtatious energy bounces off the high ceiling, leaving me feeing safe to rest here. I’m admiring all the beautiful eye shapes around me, people in their different sizes wait and walk heavy laden with quantities of luggage which signify long stays and distant destinations. One lady, at a loss as to what she can afford to remove from her enormous bag, was carrying allot of hair extensions. I decided to leave mine at home this time.

Still, I look back at times, when I would have to look for someone to borrow shoes from, to wear for performances.  Being a size four an a half, doesn’t make that any easier, I would like to give special thanks to Joie and Amy for putting up with me. I believe that every chance on stage is the only one of its kind. You never get that moment back to ask for another chance. So I have tried to treat every moment on stage as though I’m  auditioning for Broadway.

It was during that time, when I launched this blog. Starting my blog is yet another example of things I would not have done if not insisted upon. Thank you Mutheu. 🙂

I continued with the habit of reciting for anyone who would listen. One day, on a drive through the park, I was referred to Wamathai Spoken Word. I wasn’t sure if I was good enough, but was reassured that I definitely was. I still remember the first time I met Wamathai himself. He introduced me as ” Raya Wambui, she’s a poet, and I’ve been told, she’s very good”. My body shook for the entire afternoon. I was so nervous! On stage, the same, crippling stage fright took a hold of all my bones. I had managed to perform despite it, but I was frozen in place. I later discovered that moving around on stage helpes my knees not to quake so much.

The mood in the room at Wamathai events is something I still look forward to. I think I have only missed one of his events since the first one I attended.

The audience really listens, not just to the words, but also to the deeper meanings behind them. It is always a pleasure to perform there. 🙂 I still smile inside when I remember the first time I asked him to put my name on the poster, he said yes. There, I would have the honour of first seeing Sentimental Floetry, El Poet, Kennet B, and Wanjiku Mwaura who did a rendition of Dis Poem, that I will never forget.

During the next two years I would take part and be featured in a number of other events. I’ll never forget being featured by The BOGOF, where, unbelievably, I was hosted alongside Asali, who had long been an unmirrored inspiration and still is. We were given ten to fifteen minutes on stage, my pieces average one minute. I was terrified! Convinced that I had to make full use of the time, I had prepared a set of eleven pieces. The theme of the day was – Vision Twenty Thirty, two days before the event, inspiration struck for a piece titled Twenty Thirty, which is not in my blog, but features in my manuscript for my soon coming book; Speak. The problem was, two days was not enough to prepare  a performance. I would have to read! My shaky hands would not permit the privilege of holding a paper, so I devised a plan. I told Jacque, that I would need a podium.
That idea worked much better as a concept, than in practice. When the time came, standing behind a podium that was almost my height, in front of a two hundred plus crowd who were comfortably sitting on the carpet, I all but disappeared. My nerves reached a new height of terror, by the time I got off stage, I had drenched my spaghetti top in sweat, and the room was not hot. Thankfully, the crowd still commended my performance, and the organisers managed to get an awesome video.

I was on a road that would lead me to greater exposure. I would not have dreamed that poetry would end up taking me on my first ever visit to West Africa.