We arrived very late yesterday evening at Nairobi’s small and chaotic airport. Izzo, who Willow met last year, picked us up (and our 18 bags!) and drove us to his house. Izzo is our “fixer”. In the film world, this means he is our guide, translator, driver, overseer, friend, and basically the go-to guy who makes things happen. In the outskirts of Nairobi, the four of us piled into Izzo’s place (approx. 200 square feet) and started to get settled. He graciously gave us the run of the house, which is where we will be staying for the next few nights. We are all crammed into a very small room equipped with 4 bunk beds, that are comfortable and quite cozy, and we have quickly adjusted to feeling right at home. We all agreed that it was a pretty cool experience to be staying in such a real life space of the people who live here. The fact that Izzo has running water (and hot water for showers), television, room for guests, a couch and two chairs is a huge accomplishment and in such conditions. And it’s all pretty exciting for us mzungus (white folks) to be in Kenya, living like the locals in cramped spaces with bars on the windows, concrete walls, hanging with the locals, and eating traditional meals. One of the first people we met at Izzo’s was Mama who takes care of everyone; cooking meals, tidying our beds, cleaning the house. Even though she’s only 27, she is everyone’s mom, and takes the job very seriously.
Today is our first full day in Kenya. After a lovely breakfast prepared by Mama, we traveled to the Margpher Guest House, met with Margret and Pherris, as well as their youngest daughter Santana who is studying law at the university. The house is set in the beautiful and posh area suburb of Karen, named after Karen Blixen, the subject of “Out of Africa.” Margret and Pherris raised their five daughters in the beautiful and spacious home, and have recently converted it to a guest house. After visiting Margpher, we visited the Giraffe Sanctuary, where we took turns feeding and filming the giraffes… Jo and Willow even kissed one particularly friendly giraffe! Apparently their saliva is anti-septic… who knew? We wrapped up the day with a concert at a local church. Izzo and 2 friends were performing spoken word, rap, and poetry. There was also music, dancing… and a little preaching too.
Today we visited the Kibera slum. With a population of over one million, it is the largest slum in Africa and the second largest in the world. Today was the first day that Jo and Jake worked on filming for their documentary, and they were able to capture some great footage in Kibera. Our first stop was the Hot Sun Foundation and the Kibera Film School, (www.hotsunfoundation.org) who we’ve been partnering with throughout the process. We met with students and staff, most of whom completed the 9 month filmmaking course at the Kibera Film School and are now are working as trainers. Hot Sun Foundation was started in 2008 by Nathan Collet, a young guy from Oakland, California who visited Kibera and shot a short film, the “Kibera Kid” which uncovered incredible talent in the Kibera slum. From there the Kibera Film School was created for young people 18 – 25 yrs. old who wanted to pursue filmmaking as a career. The school is about to celebrate their second graduating class. We watched a trailer of the feature film “Togetherness Supreme,” a true story of post election violence, filmed entirely in the Kibera slums, with all principal actors from Kibera. The film is set to launch in 2011, and is expected to be a huge success. Before we left the school, we met Evans, who runs a weekly filmmaking class for local youth through the Kibera Film School. Evans is incredibly talented… he is the screenwriter and subject of “Togetherness Supreme.” Evans introduced us to the four kids from Kibera who will be part of our workshop. Our next stop was to visit Raphael, who Willow met last year. We toured his bone jewelry project, and the nursery school started and supported by the proceeds from the jewelry. Our Kibera experience ended with an amazing meal at Raphael’s house, a traditional African dish of Ugali (ground maize) and an entire fried Tilapia fish. We ate happily and enjoyed every handful.
Next, our fearless guide Izzo took us to Nairobi to meet with Wanjiru Kinyanjul, the film professor at Kenyatta University who we’ve been working with since the beginning of this process. She has put in a ton of work selecting our other 4 children from various backgrounds all over Kenya. She has an incredible energy about her, and we are so grateful to have had her on our side throughout the planning process of the workshop. She definitely made this all a possibility from across the globe, and it was so great to finally meet her in person. We also found out that she came to the Bay Area in 1996 because she had a film in the Mill Valley Film Festival… what a small world!
Today we went to the IDP (International Displaced People) camps with Izzo and entourage, plus Monique from Australia who is a board member of Marifiki “many friends” Community (marifikicommunity.org). Marifiki is Izzo’s NGO that he started early this year to help support the families and children displaced in 2007 from the post election violence. Marifiki purchased land this summer next to the 600 families living in temporary plastic tents distributed by the UN over 3 years ago, and have built a school for the hundreds of children in need of education. The Marifiki crew had gathered up food and small gifts donated by Target in AUS. We helped hand out snacks, drinks, and gifts to over 400 children that day, which was an overwhelming experience for us all, given the extreme poverty and grim surroundings. With a Marifiki volunteer as their guide, Jo and Jake headed off to the tents where they met with a young mother living with AIDS. She is raising 6 children alone, living in an 8 x 10 tent with a single bed for the entire family. She has been living there for nearly 4 years, afraid to move home because of the violence, and is planning on staying until after the 2012 elections. Despite the intensity and shock of seeing such desolate conditions, we all feel blessed to have had this opportunity to connect with such amazing teachers and children.
Today is officially the first day of the workshop, and we spent the day gathering the kids from all over Nairobi. Izzo picked us up in a bright yellow matatu (van used as cheap taxi around Kenya) with some of his entourage (who had no idea what they were getting into!) We drove around for about 6 hours all over Nairobi, picking the first 4 children up at various places throughout the city, and then the 4 other kids in the Kibera slum who had been waiting for us patiently all day at the Hot Sun Foundation. The students warmed up to each other quite fast, enjoying the adventure of driving all around Kenya in a loud and bumpy matatu, filled with 17 people by the end of the journey. Mission complete, we headed out to the Margpher Guest house. Jake captured the kids faces and reactions as we drove through the large gates and approached the expansive property. We gave the kids a tour of their home (for the next ten days) and they were pretty impressed. After a brief orientation, we ate some dinner and settled down to watch Toy Story. The kids are still getting used to each other and to us, but they seem to be excited. Here’s a little bio of each kid:
Susan, age 16, from Meru (4 hours away in the countryside)
Martha, age 10, from Ruiru (outskirts of Nairobi)
Jason, age 15, from Eastlands (getto in Nairobi)
Jeff, age 15, from Machakos (rural area 2 hours away)
Arnold, age 13, from Kibera slum
Ian, age 12, from Kibera slum
Mercy, age 11, from Kibera slum
Beryl, age 15, from Kibera slum
Stay tuned for more blog posts!