Comfort vs. Humanity / by Cyrus

The above photo describes the day.

Stankier than the average bear, I awoke choking on my bednet and wrapped into the couch. I somehow managed to turn a simple spongebath into a potential self-inflicted case of hepititis b.  Kept bumping into Ozzy and his girl Emma in the small apartment. Stepped on a roach barefoot.  Forgot to brush my teeth, then realized I don't own toothpaste. Or have access to running water.

Kisumu was grey for possibly the first time in its history.  "Good," Ozzy said, "We get too much sun."  I was beginning to worry that this wouldn't be a good day.  (note of clarification--the guy I was calling "Hodi" in the last post, aka my host and closest acquaintance, is actually named Ozzy, which is way cooler, and good to know.  They just pronounce it OhZee here).

We went to the power company to get the light back in the house.  I helped out with the $20 overdue fee and they promised to get things going by 2pm today.  Next we headed to an internet cafe, where Ozzy and I Skyped with Matt Schmitz and Josh Sparks of the infamous CF post-hardcore group Former Thieves.  Despite the bad connection, Matt managed to tell me I looked like shit.  This is not good coming from a man who spends six months a year sleeping in, on, and under unknown couches.  Nevertheless, it felt good to see familiar faces and connect musicians across the world.

Then onto Ozzy's dance auditions, which were entering their second day.  Check it:

The top picture is one of Ozzy's dancers.  Their work was incredible--incorporating traditional African dance, breakdancing, various hip hop trends and general loose weirdness.  Ozzy has been working with these kids from 8:30 to 5 pm five days a week for the past year, teaching for free in a hall donated by the Catholic church, funding all of it from savings he made dancing with an international troupe after art school in Nairobi (He didn't tell me any of these things until later tonight). The second picture is some of the various Rastaman homies who come to the performances and provide sound for the auditions.

The third picture is Ozzy and Brian, Kisumu's most creative cousins, kickin it. Brian is wearing one of his hand-made necklaces.

We hung around the auditions all day.  I filmed people playing music, singing, dancing, and making bracelets.  An old artist who was selling some of his handiwork sketched me running around with my camera, and although he seems to see me as a caveman with a slicked back mullet, it's one of my most prized possessions right now.

At one point, I picked up Brian's guitar and started playing.  Soon, people were freestyling Swahili rap over half-finished Johnny Irani songs and I was helping others write guitar chords to original vocal parts they'd thought up.  I ended up playing so long that the top part of my old strummin arm burned in the sun.

Meanwhile, Ozzy was in charge of my camera, and it turns out he has a natural knack for focus and precision that I'm totally missing. He's agreed to help me with audio and video on some of the more involved shoots.

At one point I walked over to the offices of the NGO I worked at two years ago.  The only people who seemed to remember me were the drivers and the secretaries, but that was cool cause they were the only people I really remembered myself.  After the rough morning, I was having second guesses about my living situation.  I thought something a little more posh might get me through, and was there to ask the NGO people for help.  One of the secretaries knew of a place, and after work she took me over.  It was in the gated community neighborhood where the Ismaili merchants who run Kisumu's business sector live.  The room was comfortable (by my current standards it was heavenly) and not expensive.  The house was shared by a bunch of ugly British chicks chain smoking cigarettes and discussing the daily Africa-intern drama.  As Ozzy mockingly portrayed it later: "OMMMMGGGG that tuk tuk ride was so hectic! Let's go out to dinner!"

I left unsure of what to do. Sacrifice a true human experience for the sake of short term comfort? It's the western tradition.

I managed to work the Matatu system all the way from the posh suburbs on one side of town to Ozzy's place in Kondele.  A tout on one of the matatus I rode, clearly drunk, kept asking if I had a sister and telling me I looked like Jesus.  People were laughing so I knew not to be offended, and it was a good time.

I arrived home before Ozzy and Emma, and the neighbor kids, seeing me stranded at the door, circled around, crowding my camera until one of them stepped on a chicken, the chicken got pissed and started screaming, and someone's mom came out to punish the offending party.

At home the power was out.  Emma, though 6 months pregnant, made us a delicious dinner of eggs, tomatos, cooked kale, and ugali, in the dark on a coal fire with the tiny flashlight I brought.

Meanwhile, I spoke with Ozzy.  The money he saved is running out (hence the dark apartment).  But he's happy and determined to keep things going with the dance troupe.  He was sad to hear I wanted to move, especially to Milimani.  "I was looking forward to having you over and learning about things from you" (we have a list of things to learn from each other--editing video on a computer and using audio/video equipment from me, cooking Kenyan food, dancing like a real human being, and living life from him).  He went on to pretty accurately describe the superficial living situation I'd be in--kicking it Rasta style during the day then going home to the safety of ugly British chick gossip at night.  It all made sense, but what really convinced me to stay on was the scene itself.  More than anything, I want to talk with Ozzy and Emma and the random crew rolling through their place at nights, running water be damned.

(I reserve the right to change this decision if I step on another roach tomorrow).