Celebrating East African Writing!

Role Play by Juliet Maruru

No, not that kind. I am talking about children’s play.

The particular episode I am talking about happened in Kakamega, but I have seen so many more. The star of the show is a young girl, about eleven years old. The show has been initiated by my teaching assistant in an effort to help the kids understand dialogue in creative writing. But our little lead lady steals the show, writes the script, directs and produces the show.

Mama Christine works as a teacher at a local school. She is married to Baba John. Together they have two sons and a daughter. Baba John lost his job a few days ago, and spends his entire morning asleep in the house, then goes off in the afternoon to gab with his buddies at the chang’aa den in the quarries.

Mama Christine is a very vocal woman who will not hesitate to tell her husband exactly what she thinks of him. She warns her two sons who seem to be going in the same direction as their father. Only with them she is bold enough to get physical, knock them about and send them to the Township Secondary school they barely managed to get into.

Mama Christine is just as harsh with her daughter, instructing Christine on how to cook with loud yells, and warning the little girl about tabia mbaya with the neighbours’ sons, while knocking the bejesus off her head.

Then Mama Christine goes off to her woman friend who lives across the road. They sit and talk for hours. Mama Christine knows without a doubt that her friend’s husband is sleeping with mwanamke wa bar. Together they plot how they will make the guilty man pay for his sins…

Oh yes, the kids acting out this play, are only 8 to 12 years old, the lead lady, who also is writing out her own dialogue is 11 years old. How did they get this material? Very naturally. Children learn life’s lessons best from watching what the grown ups in their lives do.

It didn’t quite hit me how profound that was, until I had to translate the dialogue to the Swedish guy standing next to me. The play, you see, was acted out in Swahili. I had quite a bit of fun with the beginning. I was thinking how great it was that such young minds could create such realistic scenes. But as the young girls got caught up in the play acting, losing inhibition to quite accurately describe the worlds they lived in, I found it much harder to translate what I was hearing.

The gist of the play was that we are not at the luxury of talking about a dysfunctional family, occurring just once in a while somewhere. We are faced with dysfunction in the entirety of society. Today, being part of a single/lone parent family is hardly an issue. Having an alcoholic dad, and an absentee mum, or the reverse is not an issue. Teen orphans raising their siblings, hardly an issue either. The issue looms larger in the form of a society that grows on dysfunction itself.

A few hours later, my friends and I sat at the most prominent Bar & Bakery, looking at the Gym & Sauna sign over a wooden structure across the road. The alcohol had flown a little too freely, and I had sort of lost track of what we were talking about. Then my friend who also happened to be my teaching assistant said something that sort of cleared my head.

‘Everything is upside down. The home should be a haven, where a child can grow and be safe. But if the parents, parent, guardians, whatever in that home have never been safe how in the whole world are they going to create a safe haven for their kids?’

I thought about the kids in the play, and our little lead lady on the bus ride back home. Who was going to teach her that there is another version of life? Who was going to tell her that she was in charge of her destiny, and that she did not have to repeat history? Who would teach her not to look for a man who was just like her Daddy? Who was going to teach her not to be just like her mummy?

It is kawaida stuff, but it should not be. Not when this kind of kawaida dysfunction is clearly seeping past the home front and soaking up the country’s social, economic and political arenas. These same members of the family dysfunction are standing up to lead society, carrying on their inability to see the world in terms of peace, their inability to solve problems without creating more, inability to be responsible, inability to deal with life… just a transference of chaos from one area to another.

Watch the kids play, see what we are teaching them

©Juliet Maruru 2009


One comment on “Role Play by Juliet Maruru

  1. roundsquare
    March 22, 2010

    a case of reversed roles, since we’ve abdicated ours, we should encourage kids and give them the autonomy to make their own decision.



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