Today was our opening night and debut performance of Shangaa at the Zanzibar Film Festival, and I’m filled with so much excitement and gratitude. We put in so much work to devise these pieces in only one month and I’m so proud of what we’ve done. I’m extremely grateful for the group of people I’ve worked with, these beautiful, giving artists, my newfound friends, what I’ve learned about the world, and what I’ve learned about myself. At the end of the performance, I was chosen to be briefly interviewed by the biggest news station in Tanzania! Our specific play, “Nisikilize,” which means Hear Me in Swahili, told the story of a young girl, Malaika, with cerebral palsy whose father was a witchdoctor. Her favorite celebrity, Lady Oa, visits her father, and its up to Malaika to save her from the “monsters” of her past. Lady Oa represented many of the women whose stories we heard throughout our journey in Tanzania. From the street child that has survival sex to the woman hoaxed into having sex with a witchdoctor, we exposed the common issues women unfortunately face in Tanzanian society. I’m honored to have shared this story with an international audience and I look forward to seeing how people perceive it in New York City!
We perform at Zanzibar Film Festival in two days and we just finished forming our entire play yesterday! Its truly been a learning experience working with this cast and its helped further grow other talents that I have that I may not have felt as confident about or had much experience with before. I enjoy writing, I enjoy word play which is why I feel the need to now further grow my vocabulary, read more books, more poems, more spoken word, I wish to educate myself again. Because I believe I have a gift, a talent, that can flourish with nourishment and care. More Ntozake Shange, more Kirsten Greenidge, more Shakespeare, more poetic texts and heightened language that will take people on a satisfying cloud, music to the ears, something inside that says “Yes, that’s what I needed, my soul was craving what your mind cooked up even though your brain-fried tunes.”
Also, I went snorkeling for the first time the other day, and it was UNREAL. I felt like I never even fathomed God’s creation under bright blue waters. Just when I was blown away on land, God reminded me “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” below sea level. I love the water. It forced me to trust, to take the risk, it was an underwater adventure. There were times I was alone, I felt like I could lose my life at any second, times where I didn’t feel necessarily comfortable because the water would get in my nose, but the beauty was so ethereal, and when I relaxed, not too much, but just enough…it was utterly serene. A moment of being. Then, sometimes, guilt would slip in…leeches of the past sucking pleasure out of the present, causing me to be a little too cautious, a little more fearful of the sea urchins around me. Am I breathing right? What if I drown? And, when I relaxed too much I would lose control. Snorkeling was a life lesson in that it taught me to enjoy the present, take risks, trust my own abilities, trust in God, always be alert and aware and moving forward, don’t allow the past to dictate the present, and truly enjoy the moment and the beauty in front of you.
The next day we went to Kendwa Rocks, a beach resort in Zanzibar, and I had my first full body massage, which relieved my body of so much tension from past few weeks. And then…I saw the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen in my life. The sun was a bright pink with a lavender sky as its backdrop and set on a clear aquamarine ocean. It was as if I was on another planet. At that moment, I wished all my loved ones were there to share this experience with me, but that didn’t take away from the moment itself. This was a moment to share with new loved ones…friends that will be in my heart for a lifetime.
I am so grateful for this beautiful, overwhelming, synesthetic Tanzanian adventure! Yesterday, I was able to share a piece of my writing that I actually never tried out before and felt insecure about and now it is going to be in our piece! We created some of our first movement, and I had a Black Girl Magic night out on our first day in Zanzibar. We visited Prison Island earlier that day, and I connected with a tortoise older than any human being alive. We all went out dancing to celebrate the end of Ramadan (Zanzibar population is more than 99% Muslim,) and met an international crowd of people, while also connecting with new friends. It was truly a night to remember. Today, we traveled to Matemwe where we toured a Spice Farm, and used all of our senses exploring where spices we only see in a container, actually originate. This Spice Farm is where I have had one of the best meals of my life. We currently at a DREAM resort, where we were welcomed with rose petals on the bed, a beach right outside our door, and plenty of time to finish creating our devised performance. Here, I hope to feel some form of escape from the recent police brutality reports of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, that are going on back in the states. Tonight, we held a small vigil on the beach honoring the victims and those before them. Here I am in paradise, and now I feel a wisp of reality…Here in Africa where most people are black…will they truly comprehend us if we proclaim Black Lives Matter?
My last few days were out of this world. We had to leave our beautiful children at Light in Africa orphanage after they put on an AMAZING performance! These children probably haven’t experienced live theatre in their entire lives, but they put on a whole show in only a week! They practiced the day before, they had costumes, they spoke loudly…it was the saddest departure I’ve ever had to do…but I didn’t cry. Sometimes, I seem to process things later on rather than immediately. I’m going to write my babies and I really hope that my presence in their lives created a spark of inspiration, hope, and motivation to follow their dreams. After we left, we traveled an 8 hour journey to a campsite, and I did outdoor camping for the first time in my life…which actually wasn’t so bad. The group in South Tanzania had a leopard sighting when they went camping…so I think we actually did pretty well. The food that the camping site cooked for us was delicious, and the night’s sky glimmered brighter than I’ve ever seen it before, especially when there was a complete power outage. Saturday was the most adventurous day of my life! We visited the Hadzabe tribe, and learned their way of living, including, watching them skin antelope, learning how to make a fire and light up their handcrafted pipes, watched as they hunted, went inside a 1200 year old tree they use for when it rains, climbed that beautiful ancient tree, practiced some archery, listened to their language of clicking, sang and danced with their community. It was truly an unforgettable experience and BIGGEST culture shock I’ve ever experienced. We visited their blacksmith and watched how they created metals, weapons, jewelry, and other supplies. Later, we visited the Datoga tribe, where the wives welcomed our visit into their lives and culture. They gave us traditional facepaint, we pet their baby goats and puppies, and we ended up performing for them our fairytale! They told us that it was the first time they had visitors/tourists come in and give something back instead of always taking and taking. We ended the day chasing the sun, to watch the sunset at Lake Ayasa with our group being the only people there…it was like our little secret. I cried there because at that moment I emotionally released from feeling so much gratitude and being so utterly alive. The next day, we went on Safari at the Ngorongoro Crater, the place researchers say humanity first began. It was surreal, so extraordinarily stunning, and serene. The entire experience for me was proof that God is real. I feel like a transformed human being, and its opened my eyes to seeing things more clearly. Seeing some of my self inhibitions, and dealing with them. Becoming closer to God and trusting him to lead the way. Trusting myself more. Trusting my art more. Seeing that self-confidence shields insecurities that are burdens. And most importantly, remembering the power of love because love truly heals all else.
Tonight I experience an unidentifiable, uncontrollable release…I wept and waled and I felt the strong presence of God. God is LOVE. The notes the children wrote to me filled me with joy, a heavy heart, and teary eyes. Will I abandon them like some of their parents? Will I provide them hope or hopelessness? Will I show them dreams do come true or that dreams are too good to be true? Did I help them find their voice or will that voice be silenced after I leave? I left a mark, but fuck a mark…what about consistency? Unconditional and sustainable love? What about people smiling with you and for you, not a hollow shell that shows teeth but don’t truly connect to those children. I don’t want to be seen as this impossible dream, this American queen some fantasy that can’t be attained…I want to show them that beauty can look like them, confidence can look like them, self love can look like them, talent can look like them, intelligence can look like them, fun and joy can look like them, that I look like them, I am them, they are me. Martha’s smile and burst of confidence, Catherine’s bright ideas and individuality, Nice’s intelligence and leadership, all of the girls and their smiles and the way they hug me, and look at me, and follow me. And, I love them too. My heart is filled with grattitude and utter Shangaa (shock and awe).
The last two days have felt like two weeks. Thanks to Christen, we got out a whole play from the children and we also created a doctor play. And the children even performed for us their own song and dance show and it really brought me to tears. We also visited Mama Lynn’s other shelter in a miming town where boys are kidnapped to work in Tanzanite mines. The girls there were so sweet and so actively willing to participate in all of the theatre games! It was such a joy watching them. Yesterday, my cast and I finally decided the story that we want to tell, and I’m super excited to be apart of it, I just need to figure out how I’m going to incorporate everything. I will though and our show will be BRILLIANT. Later that night, we had a bonfire as a cast, and it was so much fun. Dancing and singing under the stars, under nature’s art.
Today was Day 2 of teaching and the children love me. They are so excited that we are here. I’m so glad to be a light in their lives for a brief time although, I did have a moment of tears where I cried for them, for the thought of them feeling like nobody wanted them, for their sickness, for them not having more to do, for Catherine, who wants to be an actor and a singer and a dancer but who may have to give up her body when she’s older in order to even be considered a chance at success. At Catherine, whose a dreamer, who sees beyond this village, who has talent and intelligence, and knows it, who gets teary-eyed when class is almost over, whose English is better than the workers themselves, who can dance and has more swagger than I ever did as a child, who gets sad because she knows this won’t last for long, who gets sad for reasons I will never know. I cried for the children, who watch and smile whenever we look at them, even though they can’t participate in some of the games. I cried for Felix, who twerks better than I do, and Hilda, who claps hard, who swings harder, who yells loudly, who is rebellious, and free…or is she?
Today, the kids got further in our lesson plan than expected. Although shy at first, a little nudging gets them out of their shell. I forgot how beautiful bubbles were, and the joy in their eyes lit a glimmer in the depths of my soul. Mount Kilimanjaro today was a view of wonder, and the stars in the sky, the read planet beaming brighter than the North Star, the twinkling lights that appeared the longer I looked up, reminded me of my dreams and God’s wonder.