Sunday, July 31, 2011

soul revolution

Originally uploaded by travellingLite
The matatu comes like lightning- the ‘conductor’ holding a small card with a number, shouting the same, standing on the footrest, grasping the roof with his right hand.
I jump in and navigate gingerly through the narrow passage to go to a seat in the last row- the one with the best view, while Lil’ Bow-wow belts out ‘Bounce with me’ in the background.

The headrests are covered with cheap red plastic that match the upholstered black and red ceiling. Suddenly it swerves to avoid another matatu startling all the occupants. The man in the front seat reads an English newspaper about the tragedy in Norway, another continues to shout on the phone, a pretty girl in a grey skirt and pink blouse chews gum and plays with her sparkly pink rose earrings.

Armed with my camera, I am on my way to meet brothers from a Rastafarian CBO based in Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya and the second largest slum in the world. Shiriki, means to share in Swahili, unites the youth of Kibera to rally around environment conservation causes while earning a decent living through the arts, music and agriculture.
In a colorful studio surrounded by banana trees, taking in a breathful of marijuana from an intricately carved pipe, Ras Githaka explains the vision of Shiriki- to take the youth back to the villages, to teach them how to lead a fruitful life, use the natural resources available to provide for “Rasta livity”, as they say.

The studio is a living example of their ideology. It’s a place where the youth meet regularly to make music, weave bracelets, make slippers out of recycled tires, and cook meals made of plantains, avocados, beans and ugali (made of maize flour) over firewood. It also houses a small library, a small shop to sell bracelets and slippers.
The next day, I meet the Roots Connection band, who are practicing for an all-night concert over the weekend. As Joelle, the volunteer from Canada, who introduced me to this group, takes lessons in Photoshop from one of the brothers, I make my way towards a simple home-made loom, where one of the brothers is weaving a scarf in red, green and gold. Red is said to signify the blood of martyrs, green the vegetation and beauty of Ethiopia, where the Rasta movement originated, and gold the wealth of Africa. Many of its adherents worshipping Haile Selassie I, the emperor of Ethiopia as the reincarnation of Jesus- all Rastas here proudly wear a badge with his picture on it.

As they make melodious reggae music with meaningful lyrics, I wonder if they would be misunderstood by the most of the society due to their appearance or habits- wearing of dreadlocks and smoking weed, considered a spiritual act by the Rastafarians, is common practice.

For all the good they do, their alcohol-free and meat-free self-sustaining existence, the degree of self-sufficiency and self-reliance they have and try to instill in others, I personally consider these children of the earth the Enlightened Sons of Kibera.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Originally uploaded by travellingLite
Alex welcomes me to Cairo with a Revolution 2.0 t-shirt with an Egyptian flag and the date 25.01.2011 on it. What began as a ‘normal’ protest against police brutality on Police Day (Jan 25th), turned into Revolution 2.0, 1.0 being the one in 1952 that converted Egypt from a monarchy to a Republic.

The following day, on the metro, Alex practices his Arabic with a bubbly 5 year old. The kid, half-shocked and half-amused at the tall foreigner talking in his language, nonchalantly mentions that he is going to Tahrir, as are we.

We step out of the train to be stopped by 14 year olds, who check our passports and bags, before we can make it to the square. I wonder if they stop anyone from entering…

There is an excitement that lingers at Tahrir square or hope perhaps for a better future. Egyptian flags flutter in the little wind there is on this hot, humid day. Men, women, boys, girls, children of all ages lounge about in the square that has been cordoned off to traffic, quite a difference compared to my last time in Cairo three years ago. A teenager timidly suggests me to cover my head with a scarf, before disappearing in the crowd.

In one corner, everyone bows in prayer to the call of the mullah. Hundreds others live comfortably in their encampments, surrounded by enormous posters about the revolution.
A man sits on a railing and smokes, patiently waiting for customers for t-shirts that say “I love Egypt”. Another painstakingly bends down and draws on the road- more drawings of a person holding the Egyptian flag against the sun. A graffiti on the wall of a popular cafĂ© screams ‘I want to see another president b4 I die’.

A young man wearing a purple shirt, LOVE written all over it inversely, two brushes in hand, one in his mouth- red, black, white, his forehead painted with those colors, offers to paint my hand.
I oblige with a smile and a ‘Shokran’, and extend my left hand, struggling to hold the heavy wide-angle still as I take a shot of the moment where I become a part of the revolution, as best I can.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

then again...

time to dust off this space. kwa heri :)