My story is just developing, but it started about 3 months ago when I told my good friend Paul I wanted to join him in Nairobi. What would I do there? Share my love of music with people. Hopefully, my idealized thought went, my creative side would help bring people together, or at least teach someone something. Maybe that would mean they would teach me their music, maybe I would teach them mine. Or maybe it would go beyond music and somehow the intersection of my path and theirs would produce something completely unexpected. Either way, I’d wait for it to unfold.
Now here I am, on my second full day in Nairobi, a New York man singing accapella in front of classes of girls at the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy, and I am loving it. I followed friends through the slum alleys to get there and kept my head down to watch for uneven ground. But when I picked it up, every scene was different and nothing like I’ve ever been to. Yes, there are rough places in NY, but this is not a world of boarded up rowhouses and streetlamps. This is plastic bag and dried mud footpaths winding behind dirt and branch houses, where rusted, corrugated steel forms fences and roofs, and electricity is not lighting the way home. This is not thug life, this is life as many live it, for better or for worse. I do not know their stories, but I can see their situation. My breath stops as the wind dies and the open sewers emit.
At the school, I saw the start of my project, the faces that I would work with for the next couple of weeks. They sang for me and I loved it, the words unintelligible to me but the melody soothing. I sang them part of my song and they were bashful, shy, hiding their faces but clapping hard when I was done. These are 14 year old girls acting like 14 year old girls. They were as nervous as I!
The principle, Teka, told me how things are run, who does what, how students arrive and leave, what obstacles they faced. I asked if he ever had to punish anyone, give detention. He said no, because everyone wants to be there; it is not mandatory. From 7am to 6pm, they work. They choose to try and do their best. Teka asked if we could start tomorrow. We said yes.