Out of Africa
Our adventure in Kenya is now over! I really can’t believe it. The original thoughts for this doco started just under two years ago. After the thoughts came all the work to get us there. Writing of proposals, seeking funding, organising accommodation, booking airline tickets and finally after everything we arrived in Nairobi a month ago ready to shoot. And we did it. Part of me can’t accept the fact that we actually accomplished it.
A lot of stuff going on in our heads in the final week and I think that this experience is going to change us all in a way. You would have to be dead inside to not come away feeling different. I am feeling very disconnected and being back in London is surreal because sometimes my brain takes me back to Kenya and to the slum. My existence for a short period was completely different then anything I had ever experienced. It was real, immediate and visceral. There was so much happiness and joy in the slum but tragedy is always there. And I think that’s the hardest part for people to understand. Even though there was tragedy in almost everyone’s life that I met in the slum they don’t have time to re-live it. There is no time to feel sorry, sad or mourn the loss of your loved ones. Life continues and you just live your life. It’s the sheer resilience you need to survive. Diego and I had a long talk about it since we left and that new understanding of what is important and what isn’t is something we hope to carry back into our lives.
We did find a bit of time to do some “Kenyan” things, which included a visit to Sheldrick Foundation. It is an orphanage for baby elephants and rhinos. Because Hanne is a sponsor we were able to visit at feeding time and touch the babies. They are unbelievably cute and such amazing animals.
As a final thank you to Hanne and everyone at the project we edited together a little promo type video to show the kids. We also wanted to show them a little bit of what we’ve been doing. So we cut together an eight-minute funny and a bit sentimental video for them to watch. You have to understand that most of these kids have probably never watched TV much less watch a movie so you can guess at the reaction the video received. The kids were just mesmerized and found it hysterical. It brought such laughter and happiness to everyone watching (we filmed their reactions, which are pretty amazing) that it really made the three of us feel pretty good about what we’ve been doing the past month.
“We have so much and they have so little but they’re still happy” is a phrase that we all have heard when discussing slums or the third world. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit. What does it mean exactly? It comes from the idea that to be happy we need material wealth. And for children they need toys, dvds, teddy bears, massive strollers and just a lot of stuff. After spending a month in the slum I know that this isn’t true. It’s not that the slum kids are simpler then kids in the West. It’s simply that it is their lives. We’ve seen kids every single day joyfully play in a sandbox without a even a shovel or a pail. Are they as happy as kids in the west who have the newest toy? Absolutely and without a doubt.
So where does the idea come from that kids and those with little should be unhappy. It comes from our preconceived notions of what defines happiness. We think that happiness is defined by the accumulation of material wealth. This is not right or wrong, it is just the way it is. We should not feel guilty for what we have or even thinking this way. But also we should not feel superior and that whole idea must be put aside when dealing with places like the slum. All people need to be happy is the following. Clean water, adequate housing with proper toilets, good nutrition, proper healthcare and a decent education. The rest is just icing on the cake.
Now as I write this the one thing that I struggle with is that I don’t want to sound preachy or make an indictment of the way we live in the west. I’m not writing this to make people feel guilty. This is the last thing we want to do with the project. Those adverts on TV from charities (you know the ones, the ones with little babies with flies on their face) are created to make the viewer feel guilty. The hope is that you will write a cheque and then forget about it until next year. Guilt does not change anything. Guilt does not inspire. What we hope to do, at the very least, with this doco is to make the viewer think for a second and hopefully feel engaged. Maybe that leads to people doing a little research on the charities and NGOs they donate to.
Now there is a subject of much contention amongst the three of us…NGOs. We had many heated but friendly discussions. Christian, having witnessed for years the ineffectiveness of large organizations, is a firm believer in much smaller and hands on organizations. Me, I am somewhere in between, as I’ve seen in practice the ridiculous overheads that some of these organisations have but also think that there are a few NGO’s that are more effective then others. Diego was the one probably most affected but what he witnessed in Kenya. I don’t want to get too much into the politics of it all but suffice to say that the Charity and NGO world is a business. And like any business they need to function and money is needed to do that. It didn’t help our perceptions of NGOs when the one guy we met from a very large and well known one was the epitome of the smooth, slick talking (a snake charmer I called him) cause guy.
As a good-bye the kids organised a little presentation for us that includes the scouts, a small play, acrobatics and a presentation of cards. It was quite sweet and very emotional for all of us. The adults in the slum do not show much in terms of emotions but you could see that in their own ways they had become attached to us. I know that we all have become attached to them so saying was good-bye was a bitter sweet moment. Our friend Duncan disappeared for awhile and we were wondering if would have a chance to say good-bye. He reappeared with one of his original paintings for each one of us. We think the world of Duncan and wish him the absolute best.
So now we are back and adjusting to our lives again. But the work is not done! Next we are into phase two. This involves trying to create some publicity for the project. This will ultimately help in getting the film onto TV and into festivals and help us spread the message. So we are all trying to get interviewed, write articles and do anything to raise awareness of the project. Any media connections you may have including newspaper, tv, internet or even a personal blog please let us know. We also now need to raise another $3000 CDN to finish the post-production. Diego has arranged for the edit to be done free in Brazil, which saves us a fortune, but we still need to pay for our grader, music composer and sound mixer. So if you have any leads or any organizations that fund or would be interested in funding the post-production please let us know.
So that’s it for this part of the journey. A very heartfelt thank you to all of you that have joined us in the adventure. Your comments, support & good wishes have driven us throughout this experience and we can’t say how much we appreciate. There will be some photos posted on the website and we will keep you updated on our progress.
Thank you all again.
Riyad, Diego & Christian