By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 14 November 2018)
‘Lest we forget’ that indigenous East Africans fought and lost their lives in the First World War, Davina Leonard and John Sibi-Okumu staged a series of readings last Monday night, just a day after Northern Europeans commemorated the armistice that annually marks the end of that war’s most horrifying hostilities when Western powers fought among themselves and Africans served as their proxy fighters.
Armistice Day was centrally celebrated this year on November 11th in Paris. But in Nairobi, it was at Alliance Francaise that Davina and John recited a series of poignant poems together with extracts from historic letters, notebooks and memories. All but a few had been written during or immediately after the so-called ‘Great War’ which had supposedly been fought ‘to end all war’.
Alas, that was not the case as World War One merely opened the floodgates of further strife and bloodier conflicts erupting throughout the last century and even up to now.
‘Lest we forget’ was devised by Davina and shared between the two as they each took turns painting an evocative portrait of the horrors of war and the tragedy of so many lives lost in the most excruciating conditions.
At times, their performance was painful but sensitive since neither shied away from sharing first-hand accounts of poets like Siegfried Sassoon, Rudyard Kipling, Pierre Bonhomme and John McCrae, all of whom wrote empathetically about the hundreds of thousands who died.
Writing to make sense out of the nonsensical had to be one reason so many gifted poets wrote during that time, between 1914 and 1918. But even today, Kenya has gifted writers like Walter Sitati’s whose play ‘Sins and Secrets’ (staged last weekend at PAWA254) also sought to make sense out of the irrational gap between the super-rich and the poor in our present-day society. Peter (Elvis Gatere ) and Janel (Tracy Amadi) met while working in the same law office. But outside the office, they have little in common. She’s a child of privilege whose father’s (Sam Psenjen) wealth meant she’s never had to sweat for anything, unlike Peter who’s the son of a single mother (Grace Waihuini) and has had to struggle every step of the way.
‘Sins and Secrets’ isn’t a story of class struggle, but it effectively illustrates the irrefutable need for change in a world where injustice, greed and inequality seem to take precedence over humanity and honesty.