Jack Mullen in Kenya Part II

IMG_4782The second half of my time in Nairobi was very different from the first half. A group of around 30 students from Norway came over for something called the Pamoja festival, an annual festival of mainly music. They spent two weeks doing various music workshops with all of the groups that are part of VOCAL. It was usually the job of Mwas and I to warm the huge group up every morning and we also spent some time incorporating the Norwegians into a play that we had been working on in our own drama group.

IMG_5660It was really fun and amazing to see these two groups come together and interact.  A big portion of the Norwegians had cornrows for a while and there was always some kind of game going on, sometimes soccer, and sometimes just some made up jumping competitions. At one point there was a huge and oddly official soccer game between Kenyans and Norwegians which was really fun.

IMG_5812 I also did a whole lot of traveling with some of the people from the Shabooya group. I went to a place called Paradise Lost where there was a waterfall and some stone age caves.  I went on a game drive with Mwas and saw all kinds of animals.  I went shopping in a place called Kariakor.  I saw baby elephants at an elephant sanctuary, and to finish it all of I spent my last day in the Masai Mara in a traditional village with the Masai people.

IMG_5857All of this was absolutely unforgettable. Not just doing and seeing all of these things but getting to do them exclusively with local friends that I met in my time here.  I cant think of a better way to really experience and get to know a culture. And what an amazing culture to experience!

At the end of the two weeks everyone got together and we did the performance of the Pamoja Festival. We drew a huge crowd in the dirt lot outside the VOCAL center and all of the bands performed their songs and we did our play and the crowd loved it all! It was so great to see everything come together like that after all of that hard work.

IMG_5982Having been back home for a while and getting to look back on this experience its almost hard to believe that I was actually there doing what I was doing. This was probably the best experience of my life and just absolutely incomparable. The lessons I learned about what it really takes to be happy are things that I will have with me for the rest of my life and the friends I met I hope to keep in touch with for just as long. I couldn’t have asked for a better time.

Written by Jack Mullen

Performing Arts Abroad theatre volunteer in Kenya

Culture Shock in Nairobi

When I first arrived in Nairobi, Kenya I was greeted with every bit as much culture shock as I had expected and more. To be honest I thought I’d never get used to it. And I was right; I never did. But thank god for that.IMG_3818

My first two weeks in Kenya have been more life changing and spectacular than anything I could have ever imagined. The places I’ve already seen in these short two weeks, from the Mathare slums to the green hills of Ngong, have been just unbelievable. The people I have met (and even the ones I haven’t) have been friendlier than anywhere I’ve ever been. And the completely absurd Matatus I’ve ridden everywhere in whose bright colors and blaring music are an acquired taste. All of it has come together to make this experience leave all expectations I had in the dust.IMG_3896

Most all of my time is spent with a man named Mwas, he is the head of the theater element of VOCAL, the main group that I am working with here. He was born in Mathare, the second oldest slum in Nairobi, and he lived there up until he was 18. He and I have done pretty much everything together and as a result have become very close. He’s a great guy and having him around I always feel safe. I’m proud to have him as a friend.IMG_4051

Three days a week I’ve been having rehearsal with Shabooya, one of the VOCAL drama groups Mwas is in charge of. I had pretty high expectations for this group to begin with but these guys ran circles around every one of them. I swear these kids are fearless—they let nothing hold them back and just throw every last bit of themselves into every exercise and game I present to them. I have nothing but respect for every last one of them.IMG_3852

The other two days of the week I’ve been spending at a little school in Mathare teaching English to much younger kids as well as doing some drama work with a group of them. I had never really done any classroom teaching before, especially not elementary English, so safe to say I learned a whole lot more than the kids did in that class.IMG_3886

Whenever I’ve had spare time I’ve been volunteering at a home for abandoned children in Mathare run by a veritable saint named “Mama Mercy”. She sleeps 4 hours a night with somewhere around 20 newborn babies in the room with her. IMG_3916I don’t think there’s much the world needs more than people like her. And the children there, as well as in the rest of Mathare, are just awesome. They’re always playing and laughing and every time I pass by a group of kids in Mathare, without fail I’m greeted with all of them chanting “how are you” in unison while they grab my hands and follow me wherever I’m going. Nothing could keep these kids from being kids and that is pretty powerful.IMG_4424

 In short, these first two weeks have been everything I could have hoped for and more and I’m thrilled for two more to come!IMG_4273

 Written by Jack Mullen

Performing Arts Abroad theatre volunteer in Kenya

Theatre Volunteering in Nairobi, Kenya! “A Footstep you’ll never forget”

Just a little over a year ago, Bria de la Mare was returning from a summer experience working with a Theatre for Development group in Kenya through Performing Arts Abroad.  Looking back a year later, she considers the enormity of her decision to take a risk and try something new…

I used to never understand the idea of a Gap Year, I never understood the need to travel before going ahead with another three years of study. Most people I studied with were either too impatient and jumped at the opportunity of freedom to travel whilst others were petrified that if they went for a year of freedom, they would never come back.

I can see why.

I’m from the UK and have just finished my first year at East 15 Acting School on a course called World Performance. Performing Arts Abroad seemed like a match made in heaven as something which would push me into my studies with something unique to drive me through. I decided to go to Kenya with PAA almost at the last minute, I knew I wanted to do something, after a year of working I wanted to get out there, but I had no idea why. When I was accepted into the programme it was really a fight or flight moment, I booked my plane tickets, and there was no going back. Thank goodness for non-refundable airline fares!

The experience was ridiculously insane, nothing I could have ever imagined, challenging, exciting, unpredictable and breath-taking. When I imagine myself not clicking that confirmation button that would send me off to the unknown I shudder, thinking of all the things I would have missed out on.

I would never have had the fresh perspective on what I do that was so vital for preparing me for my studies. I would never have the confidence I have now to try something new, which, on my course is something I have to try very often. The spontaneity of the Kenyan culture challenged me to throw myself into lessons which could take a turn at any point, in any direction. Improvisation is one of my weakest points, but I am no longer scared of it, not after running classes with some of the most enthusiastic and crazy people who simply love what they do. This year I have heard the words ‘It’s okay to fail, just don’t be afraid to try’ countless times, and although the notion still can scare me, I know I’ve done it before and that is something which will always launch me into things I probably would have never done a year ago.

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VOCAL, the theatre group with endless energy! Lessons with these guys were always exciting and so much fun (even when you don’t have a clue what’s going on) Never a dull moment!

I would have never met the people I met, people whose stories will inspire and change your perception of the world forever. People out there are incredibly kind and welcoming, the culture difference becomes something you will treasure as they will surprise and challenge your way of thinking. I made some very good friends out there and learnt some things about human resilience that I would have never found in my everyday life. Today I write about their stories and the lessons they have learnt and in return taught me, they are things you will never forget and they have impacted the work I have produced and will produce in my future studies.

I would never have seen and done so many beautiful things. Nairobi is a BIG city and in it you will find all kinds of life. I would never have travelled on crazy Matatus, the transport buses that will make you appreciate your rickety bus at home (however, I still crave a drive in one again, when I’m sitting on my boring bus into town). I would never have started loving bananas, they are everywhere along with other fruits you have never seen before! I would have never been caught in a rain storm! I would never have visited beautiful Mombasa where coconuts and palm trees really become your reality (I had to blink several times at my surroundings to reassure myself that what I was seeing was real). I would never have danced all night with people who just know how to dance, EVERYONE loves to dance. These experiences big or small, all amount to realising, that going abroad is a gateway to try new and exciting things!

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Mombasa Raha! If you get the chance to go take it! A beautiful place that you won’t forget.
There are lots of opportunities to go exploring with friends. Kenya is such a diverse and beautiful place.

I would never have seen children’s faces light up as young adults went into the orphanage situated in one of the largest slums in Africa and put on a festival of singing, dancing and performance for them. I would never have been so blessed to participate in that and met so many beautiful people instilling hope into these children’s lives. I’ll never forget how shy the kids were at first, before long they were scrambling up my leg, and playing with my ‘strange’ hair.

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Teaching at the School and Orphanage was an eye opening experience but one with a lot of happy memories. The children are wonderful and so eager to learn.

I would never have had the chance to use what I love in such a new and different way, not only for my own experience and advantage but for others, to share something with others that is so special to them also. I would never have grown so much in one month and learnt more about humanity than I have throughout my life.

If I had never have gone, I never would have taken those footsteps down a path which I know I will return back to one day, a path which I know goes further, a path which is no longer strange and something to be frightened off, but a path which I am itching to rediscover again.

So don’t be afraid, take a dive I promise you, you will not regret it!

Written by Bria de la Mare
Performing Arts Abroad Theater Volunteer in Kenya alum