June 10, 2009

Slum-A-holics

I have filmed in Kibera on and off in the past couple of years, but always managed to separate myself from the people I met and keep it 'strictly business'. That was my defense mechanism, such that I did not feel guilty for having what I had, what I took for granted that I deserved. Try as I may, I could not run away from it. The reality of how the people lived in Kibera was with me, in my mind, everyday. I did not want to get involved, because I knew once I got in, there was no turning back.

So to make sure that I was as far away from the reality as possible, I agreed to produce the film, Togetherness Supreme, set and filmed entirely in...Kibera! I had been not so secretly following up on the progress of the script development, again, all in effort to runaway from reality. I am beginning to think that I'm (not) very good in this 'running away' business.

For 4 months, everyday, I went to work in Kibera on the film. The first 2 months were preproduction. I had thrown myself in the front-line, with no exit strategy. I was forced to deal with the people, look at them, live in their reality everyday. I did not like it. I liked the part where it was fun to watch dramas unfold, playing with the kids, exercising my famous passenger-side road rage fighting with Matatus, eating the best fries I have ever had...for some reason Kibera fries are heavenly! Forget Java and Savanna, they got nothin' on Mama Akinyi's Delicious Cafe!

Then I got to talking with some residents of Africa's largest slum. (Dont even argue that Soweto is!). My spoilt mind thought that all the people would want to talk about is leaving the slum for greener pastures. Uh-uh. They liked it! They liked the simplicity of life in the slums, the liked the fact that there was something or the other that kept them entertained. Like the neighbour's wife who has been sleeping with the blacksmith next door who sneaks in to her house when her husband leaves, only that on this particular day, the husband forgot his wallet...or the woman who has buried 4 husbands and no one will buy roast beef from her...or the guy who is always so drunk, thugs don't mug him anymore...

They even made me tell them how much I pay in rent for my 'suburbia' apartment. They calculated, and told me proudly...

'What you pay in a month is enough to pay rent my rent for 58 months.'

If you like, 4.8 years. They figured that they had the best sense when it comes to investment and saving money, and I was just one lost soul. Of course they do not like it that they have to jump over sewers to get to their houses, or the fact that you are bound to step on a 'flying toilet' that will 'explode' on you...or the fact that when it rains, you are more likely to be electrocuted by the illegal wiring done underground by so called Kibera Electricity Suppliers. A story was told to me about a man who went to pee by the roadside, only to have his treasures explode in his face. Apparently he was peeing on a live wire, thus ending up functioning as the electricity conductor...


Nothing much goes on in my neighbourhood. Just lots of bi-racial kids playing and acting snotty when you need to drive into the compound as you are interrupting their rollerblading. The only is when one of our cats run away and the neighbourlady offers (read insists) that i give him to her. I did however see enough to make a couple of feature films during my short stint in Kibera. The people are happy. They are content to pull a chair and sit by the roadside and just watch. Which is what explains why when something (un) interesting happens, a crowd forms in seconds, most of whom are willing to help out, whether be in stoning a thief, chasing the Kenya Power and Lighting Co. workers who come to charge them for using the electricity, uproot the railway when Museveni decides to claim Migingo Island, the piece of rocky island in the middle of L.Victoria...and they love it!


Which makes me wonder, would they ever be happy if there were moved to a blocks of flats, where you can hardly sit in your bedroom and chat with your neighbour who is in her/her own bedroom too...where nothing happens??

The simplicity of life is defined by the fact that whatever commodity you can think of, it can be broken down to the tiniest amount so that people can afford it. You will find 1/4 litre of kerosene, 1/2 of 1/4 of beef, imagine it, it is there! If you moved to a more established neighbourhood, it would be hard to get these things.

So is there such a thing as slum-a-holics? I now do believe there is. And I know that it sounds condescending, but slumaholicism is too ideticall to laziness...

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