Celebrating East African Writing!
The view from the 33rd floor of the Cromwell Tower was absolutely spectacular. When the sun went down, I could swear it was magical, a feeling that is indescribable. It was as though all my five senses were working simultaneously and my body trying hard to cope with all this new sensations.
I pinched myself just to be sure my mind wasn’t playing tricks on me, this wouldn’t be the first time it has done so, my mind, I mean. Once, I recall being so sure that I was in the Bahamas enjoying the sunset in my exclusive suite in a grand hotel, then this beautiful and flawless Caribbean woman walks in and asks which sea food I would like to entertain my taste buds with, kumbe! It was Mrs. Kamau asking me to give an answer to the algebra question on the board that looked quite Greek to me, needless to say what happened next.
For sure, this was no dream, no virtual reality and certainly no games, this is as real as it gets, I am in the city of London, my first ever visit abroad. I guess the question is what brings me to the majestic city of London? Well simplest put ‘words’, words that are carefully and cleverly woven into poetry by the creative and brilliant mind of non other than Sitawa the 3rd Namwalie.
How was my experience in the UK? Well, it is one that I would describe as to die for, a once in a life time opportunity the kind that John Bull the English man would call fortune that knocks once on a man’s door. Our journey began in Nairobi all aboard the 2335hr Emirates’ flight EK 722 to Dubai.
‘There is planet Earth and then there is Dubai, a world completely on its own.’ These words made so much sense when we arrived in DXB at 0530 in the morning. In less than three hours we were aboard Emirates flight 001 to London Heathrow our final destination. It’s mid day when the Emirates airbus finally torches down at the airport. It takes over an hour before we all get our acts together and off to the Barbican in a London taxi. The drive into the city makes it crystal clear that life in London is very first and quite expensive, our 30 minutes taxi ride costing us 80 pounds but who then gave a tuts**, ‘We are in London!’
How did our first show in London go? For many of the cast members including me our debut show at the Hampstead Theatre on Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage will always remain as a historic moment for us. It was special and indeed nothing short of a great show. The theatre was very intimate and we all fell in love with the space. The lighting was something else; the entre roof was a spectacle of lights that changed with every piece enhancing the mood of each of the poems in the show.
Although the show started a bit late due to unprecedented delay of the underground train caused by maintainers, the grand music of Grand Masese and Anyanga entertained the audience that had arrived as we waited for a full house. Soon Muthoni eased off the audience into the show with her well crafted introduction and intelligent jokes. Then Sitawa proudly led the cast onto the stage where we gave the performance of our lives on our first ever international tour. Within 90 minutes of the show we had scored enough goals to make the crowd go wild and accord us a standing ovation that will forever be captured by our minds.
Did I experience any culture shocks? Culture shock ha! Oh please! Nothing is shocking about The UK except that in London the city is nit and so organized, most of the buildings are vintage yet well maintained and time keeping is a serious tradition and its taboo to break it. Heck! Who am I kidding off course there was culture shock. Things got worse when some of us choose to spend our Sunday afternoon watching the London IRB Sevens World Series at the Twickenham Stadium. I was amused to see men with beard dressed in tutus, women in weird costumes and young men disguised as grandma. Some choosing to give the authorities a hard time dressed in nothing but their Adam and Eve designer wear. The sun setting at 10pm did not make it any better in fact it completely threw me off.
The Hay Festival in Wales, what was is like for me? Huh… The Hay festival the main event that brought us to the UK, before anything is said about the festival, it was a great and humbling honor to be put in the same program with big names such as Hugh Masekele, Dylan Moran, Sarah Waters and Desmond Tutu.
The drive from London to Wales is long but none the less enjoyable despite the slight discomforts. Wales is a very beautiful countryside, it’s all green and the landscapes make an amazing view for sight lovers like me but it’s also very cold as well. Wales is the land of sheep and lamer and sheep…ah yeah and more sheep. It’s late in the afternoon when we arrive at our address; it’s a lovely cottage with superb interior design. Westview is the name of the cottage which views the brecon beacons. I have no clue what brecon beacon are so even you just Google.
We arrived in style at the Hay festival in a Range Rover vogue but do I say. We are then ushered into the green room, a special area reserved only for guest artist, writers, authors, poets etc. After a few introductions over a hot cup of tea we head off to the Ascari restaurant’s VIP area for dinner. Bon appétit, we are served a with a sumptuous and delicious three course meal with red or white wine to wash it down. Hugh Masekele the South African legendary jazz musician abandons his band and walks up to our table he cracks a joke or two leaving us laughing from our bellies. The mood is set right at the table everyone is bubbling over with excitement so full of energy and enthusiasm.
Our next stop is the Barclays Wealth Pavilion to attend Hugh Masekele’s concert celebrating his 70th birthday. After the concert anything else other than sleep was just an anticlimax.
May 27th is the day of our show at the festival. Its 7.30 pm as we make our way into the Oxfam hall where the show is scheduled to be performed in the next hour. It’s a very cold night at the Hay-on-Wye, nerves are wrecking and some of us are tensed. It’s a very different audience, most of them whites in their mid age or old age. It’s a full house when the show begins and throughout the show most of the audience is silent. All the wrong questions are running through our minds as the show comes to an end but this is all overturned by the cheers and claps from our audience, they loved it some walking up to us to say that in person. Their comments are read out loud in the Ascari’s VIP area, they loved our show and they loved our music…phew! Champaign is poured into our glasses; we raise them up, ‘Cheers to a successful show.’
Back to London the following day where we stage our last shows at the Centerprise trust on 136/8 Kingsland High Street. After the last show we are treated to nyama choma and ugali with good old Tusker for lovers of the bottle by Wanjiku, she is beautiful and with a great personality. The ladies take over the dance floor and the karaoke singing and dancing to beats of their favorite music.
I spend my last day in London walking and sight seeing. There are no wild parks with wild animals in London yet the streets are full of tourist from all over the world. Its culture they have come to experience, history preserved in museums and not forgetting landmarks. As our journey comes to an end its Kwaheri London and Karibu Kenya. For me, the highlights of the UK tour without a shadow of doubt will forever remain, the first night at the Hay Festival and watching the IRB London sevens at Twickenham Stadium.
Throughout this tour I have been challenged, my thoughts provoked and I come back more motivated than ever before.
© OGUTU MURAYA 2009
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