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Be a part of Migritude's journey.
No contribution is too small - or too large. $2 buys coffee for a volunteer. $15 rents a rehearsal studio for an hour. $100 covers 2 hours of lighting / tech / set design. $500 helps fly Shailja to international festivals!!

You can also make a tax-deductible donation by check. Please email for details.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

final mombasa show

last night was crammed to bursting point. People pressed up against each other on the stone steps, lined the walls. I could barely move in my tiny stage area, without bumping into the legs of the front row.

It was incredible. So utterly lovely to feel the energy rise to the rafters, spill out the doors. I couldn't have asked for a better end to Migritude's Kenya tour.

Afterwards, we hung out in the Old Town, ate masala chips, mishkaki, cassava crisps. Keith went over to an ice-cream shop and came back with chocolate-covered vanilla cones, frozen hard, for all of us. Haven't had one of those since I was a child.

Post-show euphoria is the best, best kind of high. When it's gone well, when all the work has paid off, my whole body fills with exhilaration, relief, the pleasure of celebration that I've earned.

full house last night

and one of the warmest, most alive audiences I've ever had. They got every single joke, every single Gujurati and Kenyan reference. They applauded at the end of virtually every piece.

They totally rocked. As did the show, despite technical glitches and the challenges of the space. I found I actually love moving in and among the audience, stepping between bodies. And the post-show discussion was rich and strong and deep.

Two shows today. 4pm matinee, that we added on yesterday. And the 7pm closing show tonight.

Coastweek story on Migritude

From the current issue of Coastweek:


Poetry come alive. Dynamic movement and sound. Rich compelling images.

Stunning saris. Acting infused with beauty and power, that wakes you like the shock of cold water.

This is Migritude, Shailja Patel's one-woman spoken word theatre production.

After a standing-ovation world premiere in San Francisco, and packed shows in Italy and Vienna, Migritude is on a Kenyan tour, sponsored by the Ford Foundation.

It will be presented at the Aga Khan Academy, Likoni, on Friday June 22nd and Saturday June 23rd, from 7,00 p.m.

All proceeds of the show will go to the Red Cross relief effort for survivors of the recent coastal floods.

A third generation East African Asian, Patel is also a daughter of the Swahili Coast, with a father born and raised in Pemba, Zanzibar, and a mother born and raised in Mombasa.

In Migritude, she appears on stage carrying a battered red suitcase, which holds her trousseau of eighteen heirloom saris.

In the 65 minutes that follow, the saris are unfolded, to reveal hidden histories of Empire in Kenya and India, from the late 19th century to the present.

The word 'Migritude', a play on Negritude and Migrant Attitude, asserts the dignity of outsider status.

'Migritude' lays open the experience of imperialism and colonization, the demise of the hopes of independence, in a remarkably honest story of one Kenyan 'wahindi' family.

CNN describes Shailja as "the face of people-centered globalization."

The San Francisco Chronicle calls her "A Voice of History."

Feature articles on her work in the Kenyan press, laud her performances as "mind-blowing and thought-provoking," "defiant and courageous", and "master of the spoken word."

The story of the so-called 'Asians' of East Africa has been told many times before from various perspectives.

But Migritude is something completely new in Kenya: political history told from a personal perspective.

It re-asserts the history of all Kenyans - the history we did not learn in school - in theatre that is hilarious, beautiful, heartbreaking.

Yvonne Awuor, Kenyan winner of the 2004 Caine Prize for African Writing, says Patel:

"opens Kenyan wounds to the winds of truth which actually soothe.

"She causes us all to contemplate our place, descriptions of each other, roles and history.

"Shailja is a powerful cantor of our Kenyan being."

Friday, June 22, 2007

one hour to showtime

I'm hiding out in this empty classroom / meeting room at the Aga Khan Academy, which I've taken over as my dressing room. It has an online computer, so I'm distracting myself from pre-show jitters by blogging. 5 minutes more, then it's time for the countdown checklist: makeup, mic, stretch, breathe, water, voice warmups, final glance at notes from the runthrough this afternoon.

We decided today to add on an extra matinee show tomorrow. It seems like tempting fate, given the poor turnout in Nairobi. But people have been calling the school for advance tickets, and Coastweek put us on the front page, so it's also pragmatic forward planning for anticipated demand.

I keep reminding myself of the basic principle of karma yoga. Offer everything to the work, then surrender the results.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

show day

First fully-staged Mombasa show tonight, at the Aga Khan Academy, Likoni. It's going to be interesting. We're in a small lecture auditorium, so I'll be moving in and among the audience, in direct physical contact, in a way I haven't done before. No idea how they'll react - or what it'll feel like.

I slept a full 8 hours last night. Utter relief after 2 nights of virtually no sleep, due to loud bands and rowdy guests at the hotel we're at. Yesterday morning, I was in tears from sheer tiredness, and the attrition of constant noise. After 3 attempts at patient resolution and asking for alternatives, the hotel finally came up with a quiet room for me to move to. It took me getting really angry, demanding a refund, making it clear that I would check out if they didn't find a solution, for them to offer me a room on the other side of the complex, away from all the noise. A room they'd had all along, could have offered me the very first time I complained about the noise.

This morning, I swam in the sea. It rained last night, and the waves had a cool translucence to them that's almost more compelling than their full-on colour under blue skies. We've been rehearsing in water this week, to give me practice at moving through different mediums, negotiating obstacles. We joked about restaging Migritude as a water ballet. In the waves today, I asked my body to absorb the feeling of playing with every element - wind, water, sand, seaweed - so I can call up that memory in the theatre tonight.

All my dreams this week have been of motion. Of riding through streets in dalla-dallas, the open-air three-wheel taxis of the coast. Or on the pillion seats of bicycles - the other growing public transport option. Even on mkokotenis - the handcarts used to manually transport loads through the streets.

where do you even start?

At 8am today, Kim and I were on the morning show of Baraka FM, popular coast radio station. We were having a great time, joking with the presenter, the DJ, the guy who does the commercial spots for their sponsors - Everready batteries and Celtel.

We'd just finished listening to a really cool Arabic track, and they went into another commercial pitch. This one for Fair and Lovely skin lightening lotion. We both listened, jaws dropped, as the presenter extolled F and L's melanin-inhibiting qualities, the "even skin tone" it imparted, enriched with vitamins A, B1, B2, and D.

When he was done, and the next track went on, I was like:

Why the fuck are you pushing skin-lighteners on Kenyan women? Do you have any IDEA how poisonous those things are? How evil the whole concept is?

He went into a defensive spiel about how it was business, he didn't pick the sponsors, and anyway, all women used body lotion, this wasn't really bleach, it had a herbal ingredient....... the other guys all chiming in to add their layers of rationalization. But they knew. And I knew that he's right; they don't control the sponsorship. But what killed me was how they've made it OK with themselves - refuse to deal with the reality of what they're putting out on air. Or with their acceptance of the hideous equation of beauty with light skin in an African country.

We all do it - me no less than anyone else. Look away from the truth of our commercial decisions. Refuse to take on our complicity. I've been dealing with that right through this tour - from where we stay, to where we perform, to who gets to see it, to who gets paid what to make Migritude happen.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

things you don't anticipate

Yesterday, I had lunch at the home of S, a Mombasa writer. I was just about to leave for a live interview on Mombasa's Baraka FM radio. Another guest arrrived with news that the Mungiki had just issued a public warning in Nairobi. Any "Asian" found on the streets after 6pm would be shot.

Then someone else showed up and said that young men in Mombasa city centre, also claiming to be Mungiki, were distributing leaflets with the same information. "Asians" had better be indoors by 6pm - or else.

It was more than bizarre. It was surreal. A flurry of text messages and phonecalls to find out what was really going on - had anyone actually received a leaflet? Seen the email warning? Did any of this add up? Make sense?

I texted a couple of Nairobi friends - progressive activists - to get their scoop. Their take was - this kind of racial targetting has never happened in Mombasa. And Mungiki have never had a presence in Mombasa.

Which confirmed my own sense of: this doesn't add up.

If you want to terrorize an ethnic minority, you don't hand out leaflets on the streets, like Jehovah's witnesses. You just go for them. The whole thing smelled like someone in power, with an agenda, paying unemployed youth to pose as Mungiki in Mombasa. Mungiki are the new Al-Qaeda of Kenya; mythical terrorists invoked to justify any level of police violence or suspension of human rights.

The crazy thing is, enough Kenyans have lived through ethnically-targeted violence to respond to any new threat with instant fear. We don't ask questions, think critically, interrogate the evidence. We just dive for cover.

Sure enough, at my 7pm performance last night, at Mombasa's Little Theatre Club, there was a palpable absence of the brown community of Mombasa. Including all the people who had promised to show up and bring friends. A journalist from the Nation came to the dressing room before the show and said: So now Mungiki have officially arrived in Mombasa.
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