We should be less stuffy

14 August 09
As a sort of culminating activity for the week’s subject-specific sessions, Silvia headed up a showcase evening Friday. The original idea was for the teachers to be able to share the poetry they’d been working on during the week. Not so much a poetry slam, more of an open mic.
At some point, Silvia said, “And there will be snapping.”
The evening was decidedly devoid of snapping.
It was also the most open of open mics I’ve ever seen.
A few minutes prior to its start, as I was finishing my final plate of ugali until next year, Silvia asked me to emcee the event.
My thought had been to stay for the first few poems and then quietly sneak off to bed. It had been a long week and rest was in short supply.
I’m glad that’s not how it turned out.
I stood behind a desk festooned with glowing tea lights, declared the celebrations begun and asked who would like to start.
Now, in a North American setting, it would go something like this: the handful of extroverts would rule the night and subject the crowd to what they wanted to say with applause in between. People would be pretty sure they’d enjoyed themselves, congratulate those who’d shared and some would quietly kick themselves for not participating.
In Kenya, things work a bit differently.
Following my initial call to begin things, all I needed to do after each successive act was say, “Who’s next?”
There was singing, dancing, at least two conga lines, storytelling, more singing and, yes, some poetry.
The evening turned into something that can more closely be likened to a camp jamboree than a teachers’ poetry showcase.
It was while the “All-male Out of Africa Band” was performing (and not necessarily the same song) that I stopped and looked at the assembled crowd.
I want more of this back home.
I want inhibitions and self-consciousness lowered and removed from the equation enough to let us celebrate together and create whatever we can create.
I know it can happen at times when imbibed beverages have greased the wheels, but I’m saying spontaneous celebration.
Maybe this is happening other places and I’m not privy to it. If so, and you’re reading this, you know how to contact me. I got a drum in Kenya, and I’ll be happy to bring it with me.

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