In 2006 Andrew traveled with a crew of six independent filmmakers to shoot the film E for Everyone: The Mouse and the Elephant. The following is an excerpt and a behind the scene look of Andrew’s experience on set.
We started the day at the bank. We brought some money with us from people at home and gave some from our own pockets towards the purchase of a plot of land. Kubondo and the church had a scheme to build a real church building, a house for the pastor, a medical clinic, and an orphanage on a piece of land not more than an acre or so big. Sixty thousand of the eighty-five thousand shillings remained, and we decided to pay it all. The provincial government of Alberta had just issued surplus cheques to all Albertan residents: $400 just because. A few of us pooled this money together to pay the difference for the land the church needed. As independent artists making our first feature film on a small budget and a prayer, gifting the money was a good hurt. A thousand Canadian dollars and this dream of theirs, by now years old, could move beyond the vision and come much closer to reality. Money can go a long way in Lodwar, if you can actually get it out of the bank. We had to fight our way in the line, creatively access funds, then wait, wait, wait.
Later we traveled half an hour North of Lodwar to a small Turkana tribe to distribute some food. The children we gave juice bought in liquid concentrate and stirred in a bucket purchased at the supermarket in town, which, like everything else in the area, was covered by a thin layer of red dust. And with the juice, two pieces of white bread stuck together with margarine, which I’ve been told is, chemically speaking, only a few molecules away from being classified as plastic. Sugar water, white flour, plastic. What little it takes for smiling faces.
We gave a kilogram of rice and a kilogram of maize flour to each of the adults, and whatever leftover bread that the children didn’t eat, which worked out to half a sandwich each. Before we distributed the food, the tribe gathered and sang a few songs of worship and prayed. It seems the gospel really has, as St. Paul wrote, reached the ends of the earth. It was somewhat bizarre or maybe the word is surreal, to watch people so foreign to me worship the same God. It was unexpected to say the least.
Women, thin, skin weather-beaten like canvas sails that have been out at sea for countless voyages, breasts and jowls sagging and stretched, necks covered in beads. Shoulders wrapped in bright red-dyed cloth, tooth sized gaps between their front top and bottom teeth, casually spitting wads of saliva on the ground like it was a spittoon, the only moisture besides human and animal urine to hit the soil for who can remember how long. These are the ones who sang. Kubondo pointed out an old mama, wrinkled and hunched, skin leathered by the relentless wind and heat and punch of the elements. I had noticed her too, tears in her eyes, singing with all her heart, her faith undoubtedly real.
Beauty, an oasis in the otherwise desolate land. Many others just sang. Christianity, like sheep herding, female circumcision, or hunting in other parts of Kenya another cultural practice that all members of the tribe participate in.
I feel that I have so little to say about the experience. For me it was barren and spacious as the surroundings. I watched. I was a set of eyes. Hands too, I guess. It was meaningful to place food, water, juice, in peoples’ hands, to give practical help.
Does a river attach feeling to the fact that it channels water to the ocean? Does a hallway have much to express after people pass through its corridor? Perhaps I too need only be silent, and consider myself a conduit, an open space, otherwise empty but for the moment when it is used and useful.
© 2010 andrew kooman
Remembering Names: Reflections from Kenya :: Download the entire Ebook HERE
E for Everyone: The Mouse and the Elephant :: $20.00