Many people have asked me to tell them about my experience in Kenya and most of the time I found myself saying all over the same thing: “It is not quite easy to explain. It is all a matter of sensations that can be lived in the moment.” Africa is a huge continent and every state in it has a different culture, different language, different history even if they all look the same to us… Because in the end we like to generalize talking about safaris, lions, poverty or tribe villages… Africa is much more than that.
A year and a half ago I was in Rwanda for a documentary production and it was MY incredible first-time-in-(real)-Africa experience. I knew this second time around, it was going to be quite different even though I was still there for a documentary production, because this time it was entirely my project and my choice to go alone with my camera and my backpack. Destination: Kenya.
I spent a month in Ngong, at 6561 feet, less then 10 miles from Nairobi, at Anita’s Home, a rehabilitation center of the Koinonia Community managed by the Italian NGO Amani Onlus, where former street girls are taken care of and helped by being placed with other families. There, among nature and a peaceful environment, Grace Orsolato, who quit her job at Pirelli, has started a new chapter of her life, opening Get Together Girls, a tailoring school for those (girls) who grew up at Anita’s Home and, after completing school, were reintegrated into homes without any job security.
The six girls that are now fashion designers are between 18 and 23 years old. Apparently they were expecting an old lady to show up with a camera, so they were pretty excited to meet me and see that I look the same age as them. That’s a good starting point for them to be ok with the constant “mosquito” presence (a.k.a. my camera). I liked walking around Ollolua, the area where Anita’s Home is located, especially at the end of the work day in the tailoring school, where I could eventually meet some interesting characters – mostly children – who were very curious about my camera. When placing my tripod and camera to film either the green landscape or simply people walking or a car passing by, here they were, more children popped (literally) out of nowhere, approaching me as though they were playing the Red Light/Green Light game. Once they were close to me, the only thing that mattered for them was the camera. At least for the boys, because the girls kept staring at me, from head to toe, simply smiling. I don’t think it is possible for me to describe those smiles. They were sincere, curious, innocent and beautiful at the same time. When I said “Sasa” (Ciao) there was always someone replying “Poa” (Ciao)”.
Sometimes it was men who stopped by, asking where I was from and what was I filming. We would start talking for hours, different subjects, going from the reason that brought me to Kenya, to why they left their families that still live in the rural areas. Without even knowing it they gave me so many hints about their culture.
When I talk about sensations, that’s exactly what I mean. From the people you shake hands with to the ones you smile to, from the colors you see around you to the difference frafgrances, even to the food you taste. Passing across the market in Riruta Satellite, a suburb of Nairobi, there are tons of wooden stands that sell everything: from fruit to vegetables, from shoes to clothes, from radio to scratch cards for the cellphone credit, from ugali flower (a white polenta) to a normal bar of soap to wash clothes. And there, every day, several mamas are cooking mandaze (fried dough), chapati (like the Italian piadina or the Mexican tortilla, only much tastier) and of course samosa. One of the best ways to approach a culture as an Italian living abroad is always through the food and I can’t act differently now that I am here in Kenya. If someone offers you food, you accept it and try it. It is a sign that you respect others for welcoming you into their house. If there is something I love about Kenyans it is how comfortable they make you feel. A glass of chai (yes, the American called chai tea latte) and quality time with people you’ve just met are unique and satisfying. Yes, quality time.
Time is such a relative concept! If there is one thing I’ve been told by Kenyans it’s that Europeans and Americans just think about work non-stop and they do everything everyday too fast. The concept of hurrying it up does not exist in Africa. People simply take their time to go to work, to reach a destination, to talk, to eat. Pole Pole. Who cares if there’s traffic and you’re late? It happens. Big lesson learned to apply when I get back to LA.
So I think even more about taking everything slowly when I am on top of the Ngong Hills, and I am admiring one of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen in my entire life. The wind is absolutely freezing cold and strong. But the view is breathtaking. On one side you have the view of Nairobi with its skyscrapers and slums, Ngong and the beautiful and green Karen, the city named after Karen Blixen who inspired the Oscar winning film Out of Africa. On the other side, the Rift Valley, the savanna with its animals and nature, alive but very silent. It’s almost dark down there. I sit and admire the panorama, on top of the hills for at least an hour. I take my time to look at the sun. It seems almost like even the sun is going down pole pole (piano piano) on this side of the world.
This is it for today…. tomorrow is another day. Out Of Africa – Part 2.
By Vanessa Crocini. Writer, Director and Producer of Get Together Girls – The Documentary
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Get Together Girls is the story of nine Kenyan former street girls who became fashion designers thanks to a project by Grazia, an Italian ex account manager.
Check out Vanessa story @ http://www.ganzomag.com/?p=1929