GLOBE-TROTTING STORYTELLER COMES HOME TO KWALE
By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 16 March 2018)
Mara Mendiez is a passionate believer in the power of storytelling.
“What we need in this world is more storytellers,” the Edinburgh-based performing artist tells Saturday Nation during .her brief stop-over in Nairobi.
“Why?” she’s asked.
“Because stories allow you to tackle all sorts of taboo-ed topics (like FGM and HIV/AIDS) without offending people personally,” responds the storyteller whose pedigree in both Kenyan and British.
It’s not just that listening to stories allows people to let go of inhibitions and open up their minds, she says. “Stories have a way of seeping into people’s souls and causing them to change the way they see and do things.”
Stories also enrich people’s sense of identity, continues this globe-trotting performer whose repertoire of stories includes both Kenyan and Scottish tales as well as those from all over Africa and elsewhere.
For instance, she had just come from Nigeria where she performed ‘The Illusion of Truth’ at the Lagos Theatre Festival, which is the largest such festival in all of Africa. ‘The Illusion’ is a trilogy of tales, one Nigerian, one Kenyan and one Scottish, which she was meant to share at The Alchemist last Thursday night, produced by Positively African. Sadly, the show (which was also set to showcase the Sigana Storytellers) was rained out.
Despite not getting the chance to climb onto a Kenyan stage this trip, Mara’s love of both Kenyan and Scotland stories came through loud and clear as she spoke to SN shortly before she flew off to Ghana to give a series of storytelling workshops in Accra.
Explaining how she got started performing professionally, Mara says she studied Marketing and French – not literature or storytelling -- at University of Sterling in Scotland. She started writing down her first story while anticipating the birth of her daughter Imani. She’d wanted to ensure her child felt a close connection with Kenya so she recalled a tale her Luhya grandmother had told her long ago.
She then self-published “The Chicken and the Eagle” and to generate sales, she started performing the story publicly. One thing led to another and ultimately, she found her way to the Edinburgh Storytelling Centre and finally, to a professional career as a Storyteller.
Born and raised in Kwale at the Coast, Mara didn’t move to Scotland until she was 13 years old. That meant she had plenty of time to be with her beloved grandmother and listen to the countless tales the granny loved to share with her. “I’d also come back to Kenya almost every year and spend time with her then,” recalls Mara who still considers Kwale her home.
In fact, her commitment to Kwale has taken tangible form in the last few months when she began construction of what she is calling the Kwale Sculpture Park and Heritage Trail. Describing it as being in the incubator phase, Mara’s dream is to develop a major cultural centre which will generate both jobs and income for her people. Not only that, she plans to build it on the basis of her background in storytelling.
“In Scotland, the legend of the Loch Ness Monster generates millions of euros every year from tourists intrigued by the monster story,” she says.
“We also have wonderful stories at the Coast,” she adds, noting how she’s recently been running a series of workshops in her home village of Mbegani. “Through the workshops [run weekly] we’re getting the community to recognize its cultural wealth in aspects of its traditions, cultural practices and stories,” she says.
In the few months that she’s been working on the project at the Coast, Mara has already started construction. “We already have funds for one sculpture and we have designed the Trail to run through the entire village ensuring the whole community is involved in the project and benefits from it.”
Adding that during her marketing days, she worked for BBC, promoting festivals including the Edinburgh Festival, which she says is another illustration of the way culture and the arts can generate multi- millions if developed well.
That’s the dream and aspiration she has for the Cultural Centre that she and the Mbegani community are building in Kwale.
And that’s the real story!