Butiama Chronicles – The Grand Finale


The Grand Finale

Let me tell you of my very first stage experience.

I had been cast to play Aunt Kezia in the play Aminata by Francis Imbuga. Looking back, it was kind of a complex role. A conservative woman, Aunt Kezia could not wrap her head around the fact that a man, her own nephew, Mulemi, was quite comfortable with having JUST ONE wife who was always ‘randa randa-ing’ across the country in the name of a career, and who had ‘influenced him’ to not only be cool with having two kids ONLY, but also consider the idea of having a vasectomy.

Venue Kianyaga Boys High School.

I went on stage, saw all these male eyes staring at my shy self. Add a few catcalls in the mix and my brain went dead. I could not remember a single word. With the little dignity I could muster, I dragged my sorry self off the stage and into the backstage.

Gavin & Drude sparring

Gavin & Drude sparring


Two weeks have gone by very fast! It is D-day today. Siku ya kujulikana mbivu na mbichi. After 8 sessions of storytelling workshops, the students will be showcasing what they have learnt to 60 students of Shule ya Msingi ya Butiama A. 5 stories. In Swahili. I feel like that time I attended my first lecture of the semester and found that it was already CAT time (I had missed all the previous classes).

I have decided I will not perform – I trust that the students will very ably represent me. I hope. I hope you know how that hope feels. Truth is I am extremely nervous. All of them, except Ida, have absolutely no prior performance experience.

The day will start, and the day will end, I told them, seeing the sheer terror in some of their faces at the thought of facing an audience.

Out of the 11 students, 2 are from the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), 1 from Texas A&M (USA) and 8 from Edinburgh university (UK). The summer program has put them in such a sync that you can never tell that most of them only met once the program begun 5 weeks ago.

Another beautiful observation is the diversity of courses that they are taking: from Medicine, to International Politics, Religion, Computer Science, Social Anthropology and Biology. Such a beautiful blend!


My workshops had three objectives: to introduce the students to storytelling as a powerful tool of communication, to craft a performance with them and present it to a local primary school, and to complement what the other Swahili language teachers were doing in class. I added another one – to have fun! And in this particular case, the last came first.WP_20160722_014

The performances were lovely. All of them. Even with the fact that we ended up working with about 100 children. I particularly enjoyed it when they would be a bit hesitant and unsure of themselves then quickly pick themselves up, shake of the dust and move on.

Drude and Shauna opened the stage. I caught my breath.

Nyama Nyama Nyama! They called.

And the pupils immediately stood from their desks, jumping and chorusing:


Pheew! I must say the set the bars quite high, engaging the energetic children with their version of Nyama ya Ulimi.

Gavin and Jenna told the story of Punda and Punda Milia, and how crafty man got Punda to work for him throughout his life by always insisting that the favour he owed was not yet paid in full. Jenna came in well prepared complete with her character costume – and they pulled off their Q&A participatory with minor injuries. At some point, Gavin almost froze yet ended up being one of the most eloquent performers in my opinion.

Eilish and Lindsey did a rendition of Kifaru Mkali and Mvulana aliyependa Keki. Given that they had changed their story at the beginning of the week, working on it from scratch, I was super impressed. They had amazing stage presence and crazy dramatization that had me chuckling through the performance.

The Princess Trio – Joe, Ida and Damon – handled their riddling session like pros. They had done their research very well, even posing some riddles that I could not answer myself.



Nina visu vingi ila mpini ni mmoja tu.

Still racking your brain for an answer I know, right?

Chana ya ndizi 🙂

Thank you for the experience and tips on storytelling. I now feel more confident in Public Speaking for sure – Gavin


The teachers too were quite good. Given that Steve had less than three days to translate his Scottish piece to Swahili and rehearse at the same time, and that Tom only saw his script that morning. Janeth was a natural,”Tafadhali nirudishie ngozi yangu. Mimi Binti wa Kiselki sitafurahia kuishi ardhini kwa muda mrefu,’’ she sobbed, with Tom playing the ‘thieving’ fisherman very well. I almost leapt out of my skin at one point when I saw him with what seemed like a cigarette dangling from his lips, his full beard swaying from side to side. A cigarette? In class? In front of 100 12 year-olds? Blasphemy! No, it wasn’t a cigarette.

And Mwalimu Twaha’s Woohoo coupled with Zawadi’s encouraging smiles definitely made the atmosphere much warmer.


Joe & Jenna on the Jumping Stone at Saa Nane Island, Mwanza

Joe & Jenna on the Jumping Stone at Saa Nane Island, Mwanza

One beautiful transformation I experienced was Chloe. Chloe is this beautiful girl, very calm, very polite who seemed quite reserved when I arrived. After I attended some of the classes to kind of assess the students’ personalities, I decided to pair her up with Eion, the resident bundle-of-energy, whose laughter grew to be something I would look forward to each morning. I hoped that this would coax Chloe out of her shell. Over the sessions, I could see that she was smiling more and relaxing into the story. They told the story of the incompatible love affair between the sun and the moon and what a pair they made! Eion the sun with his sunny charm and Chloe the beautiful moon, drawing him in with her smile.

After the storytelling event with pupils of Butiama A primary school, Chloe said,” I never dreamt I would be telling a story in Swahili in front of 50 kids – English would be hard enough. Thank you!

Your sessions really brought me out of my shell. I also witnessed my friends’ confidence and their Swahili increase more and more across the sessions. I felt this in myself too!

  • Damon, Swahili Summer School Student from The University of Edinburgh


No, Thank You guys. You all made me feel very proud!

Photo Credits in part – Jenna Grieve, Shauna Caskie & Lindsey Murrie


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