From the compound, Sue and I walked further out of town to Sr. Beatrice’s school. Today was the district competition for performance arts. Categories included traditional performances (separated by tribe), choral performance, English and Swahili recitations, and Gospel/Church revivals. The schools from the district competed in the categories for a chance to move on to the provincial competition in Bungoma and then on to the finals in Mombasa. Only first place moves on and the schools were well prepared and practiced.
Sue and I arrived early and waited outside the fence to watch some of the groups practice. Practice quickly ended and became “gather round and watch the two mzungus standing at the fence.” Somehow, primary school children remain fascinated with white people, even the class 8 ones that range from fourteen to sixteen. The older ones stare and ask a few questions here and there, but the youngest are the most daring. They will want to shake our hands and hang around us. After being stared at for twenty minutes and no sign of Beatrice, we decided to wander into the school grounds. Not more than a minute into walking, we found the famous Michelle Obama. Not only did we find her, but we met up with Sr. Inziani, who is her teacher. With some familiar faces, we were treated to soda and bread and to share a meal with the victorious children. We missed their performance, but were treated to a reprise.
After hanging with the kids and taking a few pictures, I should mention that my camera ran out of batteries after the flower shots so I will rely on Sue for all pictures from this, we met up with Beatrice and went to see the tribal competition. Dressed in their best makeshift tribal costumes, the kids sang and danced in imitation of each tribe. Beatrice made Sue and I sit on either side of her so that she could explain what was taking place. She also threw in her opinions about each of the performing schools. Most often, she said that they were too slow for her taste. It was not until the Pokot performances began that things picked up. With drums and more lively dancing, it was the treat of the day.
I continue to be enthralled by the music of the various Kenyan tribes. The part that strikes me most is the fact that the kids take to the performances and make them their own. All effort is placed into the signing and dancing. There is no care for how silly someone may think the performance may be. They believe, with every atom of their being, in each movement of head and sound from throat. All of this draws me in, makes me appreciate the entirety of the performance. The dancing and songs are wonderful and enjoyable on their own, but there is a way that they are presented the resonates a more personal tone. Pride may be the best word, but it extends beyond that to include hope and joy. There is no comparison to this in the United States. No tribal or community gathering to sing and dance. It may be called a melting pot but maybe all that is left is a bland soup. The once vibrant ingredients have become part of the same basic taste. I have so little to call my own in terms of heritage and admit to feeling wildly jealous of the children and the audience today. So little is had in terms of material goods, but they have so much more than I can ever have when it comes to what I saw today.
On my walk home, I was escorted by Michelle Obama and company. The children jockeyed to walk beside me. With one child at each side, I walked amongst the group back home. Taking the competition further, my hands became the prized possession. I would have two fingers a child with some hanging on my arm. I ran away a few times and they gave chase at full speed. When I stopped, they hurried around and tried to regain their hold of my hand. It became a bit much after awhile, but it was another instance where my presence along has made children wildly happy. I take no credit other than the fact that I was willing to put up with it, but I am loved solely for my skin tone. It is overwhelming at times to think that I do not have to do anything to win over the affection of these children. I just remain humbled that I can simply walk and make a child smile. It is an amazing power and something that I refuse to take for granted.