23 Apr Singing + Dancing under the Mugumo: Roberta’s Story

I don’t think that anyone would call Nanyuki, Kenya a vacation destination. It is a dusty market town that lies on the equator northwest of Nairobi. Nanyuki is not particularly attractive but, if given the opportunity, I would return there in a heartbeat because of the people who make up the tiny community of the Simama Project. I was welcomed by them with so much love that, although the Transition Home has very little in the way of traditional physical comfort, I was drawn back again and again.

I traveled to Kenya during the winter of 2014 and then again in February of 2015 to work on my Song Exchange Project. I am a song leader and music educator and my work involves connecting people through song. I travel to countries other than my own, teach songs from my own and many other cultures and collect new songs to share at home and elsewhere. The Song Exchange Project is creating a web of cross cultural connections through song.

I met Matt Orcutt on my first visit to Nanyuki in 2014. I was teaching and learning at Daraja Academy, a girl’s secondary school located outside of town. On my second visit, in additional to returning to Daraja, I wanted to connect with a different population. When I contacted Matt he was most welcoming and assured me that the children and house parents at the Simama Transition Home would love to sing with me. He was right!

My first experience at the Transition Home was on a Saturday afternoon. Simon Kabiru, Simama employee, gracious guide, friend and advisor, met me at my hotel and walked with me across the main road to an area that looked like it was on the “wrong side of the tracks”. Winding down dusty, unpaved streets, we arrived at a house located on the banks of an almost clean stream, with huge Mugumo trees on its banks. In front of the stream and gathered in a big circle were the children and adults of the Simama Project family, singing and dancing. Perfect!

There was a party in progress – not an uncommon thing for this group – a birthday party thrown by a friend of Simama named Scooby. Before we had cake, the children taught and learned several songs. I felt entirely welcomed and folded into the community. Everyone was eager to share with me and to learn. This was such a refreshing change for me as a teacher of children. Often in the United States, kids are not that interested in singing and playing games that involve rhythm and song which happens to be my favorite thing. They are not used to making their own entertainment but would prefer to watch a screen. The Simama kids were completely different. They wanted more and more and more. I assured them that I would return the next day.

On Sunday after church service (more singing, more dancing), I sang with the kids until my voice was hoarse. They were making chapattis – a cooperative effort enjoyed by all – doing laundry in the river and other chores. In between, they were singing. My kind of day!

My plan was to be in town for a week and then to head out to Daraja the following Sunday. The house parents thought that perhaps trying to sing with the kids in the evening after school would be too much because the school day starts early and doesn’t finish until 5pm. Then there is homework and dinner. They suggested I not plan to work with the kids until the following weekend. However, I just couldn’t stay away. After spending the day on Monday working with children in area schools I decided to come back and visit the Simama home. I didn’t have any plans to sing with them but the minute the children saw me they were clamoring for more. They remembered the songs and dances I had taught and were ready for action!

The days following followed the same pattern with me returning in the evening just to have more time with this wonderful, warm extended family. The singing and the dancing made it easy to connect with the kids. I also had my hair done more times than I can count and the hugs were bottomless. The love this community shares with each other and visitors is palpable. The Simama Transition Home is not fancy but what is shared there is beautiful and very deep. I am so thankful for what they shared with me and can’t wait to go back. In the mean time I am happy to sing the songs they taught me and to think of them singing and dancing under the Mugumo trees.