I had been following the work of various artists in Kenya for a long time from a distance. I live and work in Somalia and so I follow them on social media. I was eager to be visiting PAWA254 and to watch artists perform. I looked forward to meeting the the brains and people behind the PAWA254 initiative which has taken East Africa by storm. I am an artist myself and so I am always interested in everything artistic especially in an African context. I didn’t know where the venue was and so I went there with a group of emerging and established Kenyan artists whom I got to know over the years. Authors such as Oduor Jagero, Carrey Francis Ronjey (The Real Ronjey) and others.
The place was breathtakingly beautiful (see album here on right and below). Inviting, living art and beautiful colors everywhere. You can tell what is going on at PAWA254 by looking at its walls only. I sat down on one of the chairs in the far red corner and grabbed a literary magazine to read. I didn’t read for long: so many young people came to shake hands, to welcome me to PAWA254 and to introduce themselves. I threw the book away. I didn’t come here to read! I came here to talk! And off we went for a long chat.
Finally we went into the room where the action would happen. About a 100 youth, if not more, attended the event. I saw youth eagerly supportive of one another. Not judging one another. Not frowning. It didn’t matter where you came from, whether it was the slums or you were a Minister’s daughter. It didn’t matter what tribe you came from or what religion one followed or what you were wearing. It didn’t matter if you came here walking, or were driven or came with a matatu. Here we were all equal. We were all artists. The power of PAWA254!
Youth speak through the language of art
This feeling of acceptance which I witnessed at PAWA254 was powerful and it has the potential to create an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding. PAWA254 brings people together and after initial contact, people will automatically talk and communicate, and in so doing resonate with one another. In the many countries that I had lived in such as Zambia, The Netherlands, Sierra Leone and other places I had seen from direct experiences that contact and communication between people erase ignorance, suspicion and fear between people. At PWWA254 I also saw talent in the making. I saw the cultivation and harvesting of talent and potential. Internationally and nationally acclaimed Kenyan authors and poets came together such as Alexander Nderit, Mutuma ‘Dorphan’ Dennis as well as other Kenyan renowned rappers, singers, guitarists and many others performed and displayed their magic. I think these youth could have easily have made it to any international X-factor talent show. Although I’d never attended one, the images of impressive TedX speakers crossed my mind. The power of PAWA254!
Another major benefit of these PAWA254 events is that it has the potential to instantaneously educate the masses about pressing societal issues and in so ding create massive awareness. And what a better way to do this than through the eloquence of art. Youth speak through the language of art.
When I was announced, some were surprised that a Somali woman would be performing and I could hear the ooohs and aaahs. But I sat in the back and the place was a little dark and so no one could easily me. I remained there until I was finally called. Perhaps, not so many Somalis stood on this stage? The theme of FatumasVoice on this very occasion was ‘unwanted pregnancies’. Young people came in large numbers, in groups by all means; public transport, by foot or drove there. They came to be part of the trending show. They came to discuss the topic and to also hear from others. They mainly focused on unwanted pregnancies resulting from a boy-friend-girl-friend relationship. I think because at their age, that is the most relevant to them.
I enjoyed the debate between the young men and women that followed. Young women shared their stories about the issue and how they tackled, faced it. A young woman stood up and challenged the perception and narrative of unwanted pregnancies and explained how during, dating and romance boyfriends would be ever so loving towards women but when it came to (unwanted) pregnancies they’d ran away! And therefore not show the needed responsibility. She called these men cowards. She received an applause for this. But some of the young men were frustrated about the generalization and also shared their opinions. I enjoyed the egalitarian, very respectful manner with which the youth engaged even in heated dialogue, respectfully showing their emotions and waiting for their turn to be allowed to speak.
Little baby boy, big future
More young women responded through vivid descriptions of their own experiences with the topic. They confidently shared how, after the ‘cowards’ had long disappeared in the wake of a (unwanted)pregnancy, they’d mastered enough courage to have the baby and raise the child themselves. One woman in particular, the narrator of this story came forward, stood on the podium to tell us her life story and she demonstrated such power and authority. So elegant was she, radiating such confidence and courage. When she was done, she called her almost 2-year old baby boy to the stage because the child kept on calling her throughout her speaking session. Mama, he would call in high and low pitches. It was beautiful to watch this affection between a mother and her child. And this of course warmed the peoples’ hearts and everyone was like ooooooh sweet and aaaaaah handsome!
And then something very strange happened. The little boy walked straight to his mother and grabbed the microphone from her hands! He started talking baby language! Gugugugu and gagagaga! More applause. Laughter! One could feel the love in the air. Everyone hugging the baby now. Kissing the baby. What happened to unwanted babies? I think one thing we all have in common as Africans is that we love children. That little boy looked like a MC rapping on stage. He brightened up the room and induced happy hormones in all of us. Art doesnt discriminate, not in gender, not in ethnicity, not in religion and not this also not in age. That is the power of art!. I think that this little boy is blessed to have this very strong mother and I am sure he will grow up to be a man many will respect and adore, like his mother. Okadia Fyonah is her name and she has since established an NGO that supports young mothers with babies. All in all, I think at the end of it all, the women won the debate 2-0! :-). Honestly, I wasn’t expecting this level of in-depth discussion. I thought sexuality, genitals and unwanted pregnancies were also taboo topics here in Kenya. 🙂 I was wrong. Personally, I would strongly urge the Kenyan youth, and any other youth anywhere in the world, to wait with babies until holy matrimony, until marriage.
I Am A Somali Woman
When I was called to stage I began by thanking our young mother who made us both cry and laugh. I thanked her for bravery and for sharing her life story with us. I congratulated the Kenyan youth for organizing themselves so profoundly well and thanked them for giving me a voice at the FatumasVoice platform during my visit to Kenya. Art brought us together. I shared a little about my background, about Somalia where I live and work. I shared information about the Puntland Women Writers Association I founded and initiated in May of last year in Puntland State of Somalia and the good work they are doing encouraging women and girls to express themselves through the power of the written word. I spoke about a project I started about 4 years ago involving a book I am writing about my late father Mr Ahmed Hirsi Koshin, the methods i used to collect data and the reasons why I am writing the book. I also shared my insights into the topic of the evening and suggested to the youth to also consider unwanted pregnancies in the context of rape and sexual violence. I am sure such exist also in Kenya. I spoke about rape, sexual- and gender based violence in armed conflict. I spoke about the strength of Somali women and how Somali women are in the epitome of life and living in Somalia. I read my poem ‘I Am A Somali Woman’. I spoke of the benefits of communicating through art and shared another poem ‘Shades of Skin’. I had meant to read a third poem Ask me not of my tribe but didn’t.
I had brought a small gift for the team at PAWA254; a copy of my poetry book ‘Sounds of Laughter: An Anthology of Poems from the Soul’ for the youth at PAWA254 to read, understand and appreciate what other African writers are writing about. The manifestation of the power of art! Many of the youth were tweeting about the event on the mobile phones, tablets or laptops and taking pictures of the performers and their performances and thereby increasing the powerful use of technology for social change in Kenya and Africa.
What can we learn from the Kenyan youth?
As I got off the stage I was left wondering. But where are the Somalis? Arent art and culture also celebrated by the Somalis? Doesn’t the topic of unwanted pregnancies also interest, affect the Somali community in Kenya? I thought the Somalis in Kenya would be abit more outgoing.
I urge Somali-Kenyans to make use of such opportunities at their disposal. Share your beautiful and rich culture with those who do not know much about it. Let the world know about how poetic Somalis are and how we got the name ‘Somalia: The Nation of Poets’ Celebrate your differences in unity. Only art has the power to do that. Only art! As I was leaving the complex some 27 Kenyan youth had befriended me on my public Facebook page and Twitter. A good number of people living in Kenya and elsewhere around the world had visited my poetry blog and read my poems many times over. My circle of friends around the world has widened and so has my knowledge and horizon. I am thankful and humbled.
I would like to thank activist Boniface Mwangi for coming up with the dream of PAWA254. I would like to thank the Kenya youth for realizing and owning the dream. I would also like to thank Author Oduor Jagero for exposing me to the world of Kenyan art and culture and for connecting me with PAWA254. There is alot we in Somalia can learn from the art festivals and from the youth in Kenya. I see potential for collaboration. Kenya meets Somalia. I witnessed Inspiration and empowerment combined. It was beautiful and I am thankful.
In Africa, through art, much can be achieved.