Dancing in the Streets/Dirt Alleys / by Cyrus

photo by Ozzy

At one point in the night my bednet collapsed on me and I thought the world was ending. Things got better.

Ozzy woke me. He wasn't feeling well, a stomach bug. I felt bad for him, and also myself, realizing we ate all the same food and imagining what sort of cruel fate I'd suffer at the hands of an ameoba that took down such a hearty rasta. So far nothing abnormal.

Besides most everything. We went to Ozzy's dance tryouts. I played the guitar for a cow in the backyard and got video of Ozzy singing and dancing ecstatically by himself to the music of the great Eric Wainaina (one of Ozzy's favorite musicians, his music is a constant presence).

Yesterday Oz found out he was invited to attend a 3-month dance workshop in Dakkar next year. Today we went to town to work out some travel fares and insurance fees for a funding proposal he's writing. It costs more to fly Nairobi to Senegal than it does Chicago to Nairobi. A crime of supply and demand.

The old artist man who sketched me the other day made me a gift. It's a wooden cutout of Africa with a wooden tree in the middle, all in a handmade envelope.

At some point I found myself sitting around talking to the kids in Ozzy's group about New York City, Chicago, rent costs, Africans in the US, Nigerian movies, racism, and why African artists don't create and distribute their own art and movies on a world-wide professional scale. These kids were smart, thoughtful, acutely aware of the problems Kenya faces, but also very proud of the country and the progress made in recent years. It's the first time I heard the term "Kenyanism", as opposed to the tribalism that has been the cause of so much suffering here of late. One guy, an amazing breakdancer and Swahili freestyler named "Blaze" said that he'd been introduced to the whole world through Ozzy's dance group--dancing to music from everywhere, combining styles from everywhere. He had the sharp self-criticism of a weary traveler, although he'd never left Kisumu.  Another guy showed me how to make rasta braids out of wool.  It may be my only choice...

Soon, we were walking. The troupe wanted to advertise for its auditions, and wanted to target at-risk youth in the slums of Kisumu (where many of the dancers themselves live). At some point, I was walking down one of Kisumu's main streets playing a guitar while this group of 10 singers and dancers freestyled over the poorly timed, ripped off Jack Johnson chords I was playing (too much pressure!). A glorious moment regardless.

Cyrus and the guitar

photo by Ozzy

It only got better. Our first stop was deeeeep into a slum I'd never seen before. It was raining lightly enough for the sun to shine through the smoke from the woodfires. The troupe stopped in the middle of what may have been a parking lot and started dancing and singing, getting louder and faster. They got me on the guitar and some kids on home made drums and started singing, a freestyle cypher, as curious residents gathered around. A very good advertising technique, and a great time.

This pattern continued until well after dark. Walking through slums and stopping in spots to perform.  I felt a little uncomfortable radiating whiteness while swinging around several thousand dollars in camera gear. But one thing I've come to learn about these slums is that, while they're impoverished, there is still a real sense of community. Each neighborhood we visited (with inexplicable names like "Brilliant" and "Arena") was the home of one of the members of the crew, who knew almost everyone we passed. As the sun set, I found myself slightly disoriented, in the middle of a dirt path while six boys, including Blaze, went round for round freestyling in Swahili as I filmed like a nerd. When I asked if it was ok to have whipped out the camera while split off from the group Blaze said "no worries man, half of those guys are my cousins." Pretty good at rapping too.

Pitch black, in front of a truck stop, people gathering, old mamas with baskets on their heads, kids, drunks, the dancing gets wilder, even though at one point the only source of audio available was a cellphone speaker turned on high. Regardless, there was barefoot breakdancing, humans flung in the air, and serial backflipping. I wish my internet was fast enough to upload some of the videos for you.  I couldn't believe I was witness to such a situation.

And there are some situations I don't necessarily want to be witness to. After the excitement of the performances, Emma, Ozzy and I were walking back to a main road where we could get a ride back to Kondele.  No food all day, so Emma stopped at a tiny booth occupied by a man with a very long, dull knife and half a cow hanging from the ceiling. I paid for the beef, and took in the sights and smells of an unrefrigerated butcher shop. But the food we cooked was still delicious--no refrigeration means everything has to be fresssshhhh.

On the news tonight--wikileaks and all the shit US diplomats were talking about Kenya's leadership. Things seem Ok though; in a text message survey, 65% of kenyans agreed with the US gov's statements that the president and prime minister are impeding the nation's progress. I'm about to pass out and I still hear sounds from the club/butchery up the street.  The music never stops.