Saturday, October 22, 2011

Lemn Sissay

Recently I went to see UK poet and playwright Lemn Sissay. I heard about the event from a professor and after seeing a clip of him, knew that I had to go. Although I missed the beginning of the lecture where he did excerpts from his play, I caught him perform poetry from his books and was awestricken.

I think spoken word poetry is a tricky thing, sometimes when done poorly, it can be mega-cheesy. Unless there is real truth in the poet's story--their poem, no amount of rhythm, rhyme, emphasis or dramatic pauses can connect you to them. But Mr. Lemn Sissay captivates you the second he opens his mouth. Anyways, I'll quit describing it and let you see for yourself:

A little bit of history if you are interested:
Lemn's mother was studying in England when he was born, so she decided to temporarily give him to a foster family. His name was illegally changed to Norman by the social worker assigned to him (who named Lemn after himself) and was placed in foster care with a white family in North West England for 11 years. During this time his mother fought to find Lemn but he had disappeared within the welfare system. Believing that Lemn was evil, his foster parents sent him to a government foster home where he was --once again-- the only African American there, describing the stay as, "prison-like." At 18, he was released and given letters from his mother along with a birth certificate where he discovered his real name: Lemn Sissay (Lemn, ironically meaning, "Why"). He spent his adult life searching for his mother and publishing his poetry-- his first book at age 21 landed him a page in The Guardian that read, “Lemn Sissay has success written all over his forehead.” He eventually found her and discovered he was the product of a rape incident. Here is a post from his blog that gives a little insight to his current family situation: Small talk in the Big Apple.

I hope you enjoy his poems.

Click the audio pic to hear another:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

As a bystander in East Africa

I was in utter shock at the state of living, as one might expect when traveling to parts of Africa. I was in Kampala, Uganda first with my family, visiting the places my father grew up until he and many others were kicked out under the inhumane rulings of Idi Amin. But that is another story all together. Driving out of Kampala and into Jinja, I saw shacks made of aluminum scrap, wooden frames with weathered black garbage bags on the verge of complete disintegration shielding the sun and an odd rainfall.

I don’t know why you might be interested in reading this because experiences such as these only have a true impact if you see them first hand. But this story does have a point; it’s not just a heavily descriptive account of my travels.

In Kenya, Nairobi, I drove through one of the smallest of 9 slums and was scared to death. It was by no means “small” and if that was small I couldn’t fathom what the other ones looked like. On my right were tiny passages through stacked and dishevelled homes, and on my left were war lords. It functioned as separate city unto its own, separate from the other side of Nairobi where the Embassies and rich people lived in lush vegetation.

Sure we all learn, it’s a process, its educating and empowering women, the climate can be volatile and the level of poverty is extremely overwhelming. I get that, of course I get that. So what the HECK, why don’t the people rise up and demand change? There's hardly any middle class, its rich and poor. Its a frustrating thing to see when you know that with governmental changes, this country and others could start to thrive. That is, minus corruption and minus bribes.

And what about all the foreign aid given? What of all the NGO's development work? Are these activities helping the people? Because if they are I didn't see it.

Maybe going there did make me a little cynical, and maybe I didn't spend enough time helping, so perhaps my opinion is a surface one... but you have to wonder, with all the foreign aid going to this country, where is the change?