Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cut Off My Tongue


Last night my brother Duncan and I had dinner at poet and social activist Betty Muragori's home. Betty, also known as Sitawa Namwalie, is one of the most insightful and prolific writers I know. 3 years ago, Duncan gave me a copy of her book, "Cut Off My Tongue," just as I was leaving Kenya for Rwanda to show "ICYIZERE: hope" throughout the country with the 2009 Rwanda Film Festival. The first week of the festival, which lasted a fortnight, took us to 7 rural towns in 7 days, and the 2nd week was spent showing films at various venues in Kigali, Rwanda's capital city.

I was sitting in a minivan that  transported filmmakers and festival crew members across the country  when I pulled out my copy of Betty's book. Conversation had died down, and I was looking for something to pass the time. As I skimmed through the contents, I came across a poem titled "Would You?"

Would you wield a machete in Burnt Forest,
Cut a Stranger down?
Slash a man as he pleads with you for his life,
Lead the crowd baying for his blood?

He cowered and cried out
Bleating like a lamb innocent of crime.
Death unwilling to take him,
He died long and hard, way before his time.
His blood waters your farm like acid rain.

...

Would you catch a running girl,
Escaping a church fir in Eldoret,
Place her roughly on the burning pyre,
Parody of tender father laying his baby girl
To sleep on Downy bed?

...

Would you turn against your neighbor's son?
The one who lent you Roiko in halcyon days,
The same who nursed your wounds,
And soothed your troubled heart?

Would you flush that son out of his hiding place,
Hand him over to certain death,
Ignore beseeching eyes of your neighbor-friend
Who stands too stunned to make a sound?
Now your own son is done.

Would you?

I closed the book, put my head in my lap, and quietly wept.
While what Betty was speaking of was Kenya in 2007/8, she might as well have been speaking about Rwanda in 1994.

Needless to say, being invited to her home was an honor. After we had dinner, I shared the first cut of "Kenya: Until Hope is Found" with Betty and Duncan, and their response was very encouraging. They gave me much to ponder as I fine-tune the video for audiences in Kenya.

Tomorrow I share the documentary with 12 journalists who are attending a "Cultural Criticism for Journalism" workshop @ Kuona Trust Arts Center. I was invited by Novelist, poet and literary scholar Mukoma Wa Ngugi. I am really looking forward to connecting with the attendees. Update coming soon.

Peace, Patrick

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