23 February 2013

Kenya: The Big Noise, the Big Share - Chagua Peace!

"Sasa, vile utafanya...utaenda Uhuru Park. Kuna ka-ofisi kadogo. Ulizia hapo," the very polite security guard at City Hall tells me. I hop back on my scooter and start heading to Uhuru Park entering through the main entrance off Valley Road, keeping my eyes open for the 'ka-ofisi kadogo' which I've never really seen.

I park next to the dais which takes on the function of a perch for individuals with nothing to do when it isn't the site for great moments in history like the promulgation of the constitution and Raila's 'Kibaki Tosha' speech.

"Mama," I ask a woman who is being paid by the city to sweep but who has taken this opportunity to engage random strangers in animated political conversation, "Booking office ya Uhuru Park iko wapi?"

"Ati booking office?" She screws up her face and lets out a high pitched 'hmmm' which for Kenyans means 'I'm thinking'. In government offices, it is usually accompanied with a picking of the nose but I guess that's above her pay grade.

"Booking Office?" She turns round and asks the posse she's been talking to whether they have heard of such a phenomenon. Shrugs, shakes of the head and clicks of the tongue follow. But as is the norm, a passer-by catches the tail end of the tutting and says to me, "Iko hapo nyuma," pointing to a clump of trees near the public toilets. "Ohhhhhh...," says the city worker clapping her hands once, "Kale ka-nyumba kadogo, kale," the extra 'kale' helping to jog her memory.

I leave my scooter parked in the lonely and very shaded car park and head off in the direction of the clump of trees and lo and behold like grandma's house in Little Red Riding Hood there it is. But it has all the chaos and filing shelves and mislaid records (and is that a bed?) that one can expect.

Milling around are more of the City's employees doing exactly what no one knows but there is a buzz of activity and it seems some seedlings are being relocated. My mind wanders back to my scooter. Will it be safe? But I've decided I'm going to trust Nairobi. Tunaaminiana.

"Ningependa kufanya booking," I tell a man who appears to be in charge.

"Ya main dais?" he asks

"Eh," I reply. "Ni ngapi?"

He tells me, "Lakini hiyo booking haifanywi huku. Lazima uende City Park. Hapo ndiyo heandiquarters," One needs to have been raised in Kenya to understand the last word.

So off I go on my scooter to City Park. I'd known this was going to be a long day but I was prepared. I had my earphones on turned really low so I could listen to music while still being conscious of the sights and sounds of traffic around me and I had a good book in case I needed to sit and wait anywhere.

On arrival at City Park, I discover that indeed this is 'Heandiquarters' for all of Nairobi's greenery. Men and women in overalls and gumboots lovingly tend to seedlings and plants which are obviously destined for the beautification of some part of the city.

A pride in the workings of the City Council begins to well inside me and I begin to think of possible partnerships between the cultural sector and the city. Festivals, exhibitions, name it. Putting Nairobi on the map for its residents and the world.

"Madam, ni wewe Catherine?" I ask. "Nimetumwa kwako. Ningependa ku-book Uhuru Park." Catherine looks at me and like a seer knows that the only way that I know that The Book resides with her is if I've been to all the places where that information is given out in drips and drabs.

But she has bad news for me. "Kwa kawaida, hiyo kitabu huwa hapa. Lakini wakati huu wa campaign imerudishwa City Hall Annexe," she says.

Back to the beginning. Information I could have received from the guard who directed me initially. But I wouldn't have known about 'kale ka-nyumba kadogo kale,' nor would I have known about the great work being done at City Park.

Catherine very kindly calls City Hall and speaks to the secretary of the person who has 'The Book' confirming that my date is available. Armed with the number of The Secretary to The One Who Has The Book (because I have learned that the gatekeeper can make or break you) I initiate the written process of booking Uhuru Park.

I then continue a conversation with Kenya Red Cross about partnering on this event. Thus is born 'Chagua Peace- Keep The Promise!' A Peace Festival on February 28 2013, the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Peace Accord.

This is what you can expect on the day. All things remaining constant, there will be an official part of the day where former President Moi and soon-to-be-former President Kibaki will attend and hopefully not say too much.

But I'm sure they'll pull a crowd. Then the concert will begin. We have your hip-hop favourites like Juliani and P-Unit, your Genge favourites Jua Cali and Mejja, your gospel favourites Emmy Kosgey and Daddy Owen, your Afro-types like me.

But the highlights are where you get to participate. The Big Noise and The Big Share. The Big Noise is a percussion beat that we're going to be teaching you in advance on You Tube (and also on the day) where you join us by playing the rhythm on karais, buckets and sufurias with ladles or wooden beaters that you will bring from home.

Secondly, the Big Share. Even though the concert is free you cannot come empty handed. You must bring something to share with a Kenyan who you do not know.

If you belong to a political party, feel free to wear your political party T-Shirt because I believe that Kenya is bigger than T-Shirts and the sooner we admit to each other that we have different political affiliations, the sooner we can begin to have open discussion and heal and maybe even change each other's minds.

I need you to come. Yes, you. Don't sit there thinking "This concert is for ....," then stick in whatever word that allows you to distance yourself. This is a Peace Festival. It's a time of sharing.

It's an outpouring of our love for Kenya and a celebration of the Kenya that we want to save. We want to be able to wake up on March 5 and say "I did my part. I will accept the result and I will serve my new president and he (or very hopefully she) will serve me."

For the concert to be a success, we need more than one hundred thousand people there and to be honest, I don't know how to make that happen.

With our partners, we will mobilise university students, school pupils from the surrounding schools and with any luck, we may have buses coming in from neighbouring areas.

But you have to come. Yes, you. Don't look behind you. I'm talking to you. We have security in place but most importantly we have you. You are our first security.

You're not a troublemaker. Neither will the person next to you be. This is also us, as a city, taking back Uhuru Park. It's our public space. It's our great mass of green in the middle of our great city. Come on down!

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