Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hostess with the Mostess

In 2009 we blazed on motorcycles through the Turkana village of Chumvi- a small settlement of around 200 people organized in roughly 25 mud and dung traditional huts- on our way to our friends village of Attir, about 5 miles further into the arid bush where the elephants hang out late afternoon and where we were to experience our first days in a Turkana village.

In 2010 we found ourselves lost under the starry sky, invited into a few of these hospitable huts as our truck was stuck in the nearby river- late at night- too late, or so we were warned, because predator animals were out and the nearby Borana tribe was rumored to be lurching with AK-47s, awaiting Turkanas walking in the bush with their herds.

In 2012, we witnessed a Chumvi completely turned upside down. The salt flat (chumvi in swahili= salt) now is home to over 3,000 Turkanas who have gathered together in the open, treeless expanse, in effort to protect themselves from the current raids of Borana and Somali who have, along with the Turkana, been violently looting, burning, and murdering each other's villages weekly since October 2011. Chumvi, thanks to UNICEF, is now an African settlement of igloos- donated white tarps propped by sticks serve as temporary huts for the newfound refugees in their own villages who are reliant on maize flour, also donated by UNICEF and WFP because they cannot safely graze their goats and livestock and their small scale bean and maize farms have been abandoned with the move.

We anxiously arrived to greet our friends on the 1st of January- one man is our Kenyan brother, Julius Lemuya, who for 2 years was our fixer during production of our documentary, essentially our gatekeeper into this labrynth of a new world. (Thank you Lemuya!) He gave us the breakdown of the current situation and like the echo of a gong- uttered words I can still hear ringing in my ears. "We are trapped. There is nothing for us to do, nowhere to go. We are caged chickens waiting for food and flight."

Fast forward one week later. We bought a giant white UNICEF tarp from a boy who had wisely taken inventory of the extras in the encampment, ~$10 USD, borrowed speakers from an electronics 'store' in Isiolo town, rented a generator, and got our Kenyan MacGyver- Mr. Daudi- on task to build two 20-foot stands to hold the tarp-screen up for our village drive-in theater.

We set up the projector atop Elvis and come sundown lazerbeamed videos from our footage shot in Chumvi so they could see themselves 15-feet tall shining through the desert battlefield. Roars of laughter and screams of shock and awe rippled through the refugee camp- some had never seen video so to see themselves first was something I still cannot get my head around. Our intentions were to show James Cameron's Avatar but the moment the 20th Century Fox anthem sounded its alarm across the silent bush- gunshots popped from the left and everyone, including ourselves went packing and running into the huts.

Back in Isiolo town, the next morining, we find out they were bullets meant for another tribe, the Samburu and Meru, just miles away having a "simple, ordinary dispute over livestock" (with AK-47s as mediators? Geeeeeez.) And although Avatar didn't get screened here- the 20 minutes of short videos celebrating the Turkanas whilst trapped in their chicken cages seemed to change something. The air was a bit lighter- perhaps the temporary distraction from their glum reality, or maybe the illumination of their glum reality 10x the size- whatever it may be, the people seemed a few feet taller and Village Beat was a few ideas closer to understanding and grasping the magnitude of the present situation facing these northern pastoral tribes today.

Oh, and before nightfall and movietime, during setup, the dustiest, funkiest, highest jumping dance competition took place in front of Elvis' headlights. Those things ain't just for drivin. (Scroll down the blog to watch Wild Country)

Thank you Chumvi.

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