Keith Pearson apologized to the audience in advance that the five panelists would now have to leave the floor
and join him “up there”. He used these words to describe the quartet of tables and chairs facing the rest of the would-be audience of this forum at the Goethe Institute. I think the apology was actually directed at us panelists since Keith knew how much we preferred a round table (used here in the literal sense of circular tables) forum of informal discussion than this high table style set up. It just made me feel like I had to be uptight.
As the legendary John Sibi-Okumu and respected director Kamau wa Ndun’gu gave their opening statements, I listened in awe but also kept wondering how I would break the ice. I knew the audience was made up of mostly new actors who revered this panel. The title “How I made it” did not help matters much either. I had a few options in my mind by the time John Wasonga begun. Wasonga is a re-known thespian in Mombasa and is currently the Coastal Manager at the Theatre Company of Kenya. He begun by announcing that he wanted to tell us a story. I couldn’t help but notice the worried expressions. ‘What if he embarrassed himself?’ At least that’s what I was thinking. ‘What if it was too long and Keith as the moderator would have to abruptly cut him off?’
Nevertheless, Wasonga in his trademark smile, was already cruising down memory lane. A close relative had died but he and his father had not attended the funeral. (“What’s the big deal?”I could hear the audience’s wonder). Unfortunately, what this meant was that Wasonga could never eat chicken again at his grandmother’s homestead.
It all seemed inconsequential until one day when Wasonga went to visit his grandmother during a famine. This
clearly limited his diet to “bitter herbs” that were usually pinched behind the huts. It was cool with him and he managed to bravely survive the first three days. However, this adolescent with a healthy teenager’s appetite could not take it anymore and went to his grandma demanding that he slaughters the chicken or go on hunger strike. His grandmother gave in and with greater and tastier food options; he enjoyed the rest of his stay in the steamy upcountry in Lake Nyanza Basin.
When Wasonga went back to boarding school, he fell a bit ill and the school diet wasn’t helping either. His mother came to visit him and noticed that he had lost weight and was a bit weak. She then headed to his grandmother’s house. As they were catching up, she noticed that the poultry were few in the homestead. She inquired of her mother, concerned that a hyena might have attacked and finished all the chicken. To her utter disbelief, Wasonga’s grandmother informed his mother that it was he who had eaten all the chicken during his stay over.
The worried mother gave her own mother a tough lecture and hurriedly went to traditional herbalists who gave her nyaluo medicine. She then went to school, herbs in hand and instructed the headmaster on how Wasonga was to be medicated. Some to swallow, some to drink and some to bathe with –making sure he did not rinse himself until the herbs diffused into his body. She also left party-foods for Wasonga to consume. These were chapatis, juice, loaves of bread and enough pocket money to buy healthier dinner.
Within a week Wasonga was back to his normal weight and high energy. To this day, he never knew whether it was the nyaluo medicine or the improved diet that saved his life.Of course, by this time the audience and I had laughed, chuckled and cackled.
The hard ice had been broken into tiny pieces and it was easier for Fridah and I to give our opening remarks in a cheerful and comfortable space.