Stories from Kenya – A Month to Paint, Draw, Learn and Grow

In 2014, a team of artists and I set off on a month long journey across the country of Kenya to learn, observe, share our art, paint murals, and grow.  Rooted to the land by team member Ngene Mwaura’s family and upbringing, we traveled from Kikuyu land in the north to Maasai villages in the south.  We painted three murals, drew many portraits, and listened to countless stories.  Here’s a glimpse at what we brought back home with us.

The storytellers leave the village / The storytellers brave the jungle / The storytellers meet strangers / The storytellers taste new lives / The storytellers see pains / The storytellers feel pains / The storytellers starve as they walk the plains / The storytellers brave the desert to find the oasis / The storytellers learn new songs / The storytellers teach new songs / The storytellers inspire dreams / The storytellers provoke thought / The storytellers find love / The storytellers lose love…

The storytellers are home now. The village lights the fire. Tonight is the night we waited for. Tonight, the storyteller is king. Tonight, the storyteller is king. And at the break of dawn, the storytellers are gone. To go find other stories. To find other experience. To bring you another story.

– Ngene Mwaura “The Storytellers”

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Our journey began in Kikuyu Town where we got to know Ngene’s family, witnessed the farming lifestyle that sustains the majority of Kenyans, interviewed people who have dedicated their lives to the land that sustains them, and enjoyed a goat roast accompanied by family and friends.

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From there we traveled south to the border of Kenya and Tanzania to live in a Maasai village at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. We stayed in a tent behind a Maasai friend Daniel’s dung hut in a boma called Namelok. We learned so much about the traditional lifestyle of this celebrity tribe, fetched water straight from the source of Mount Kilimanjaro, painted a mural at the school house surrounded by curious children, and ended every night storytelling around a fire with the shimmer of the Milky Way above us. The knowledge we gained was immense.

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We were then lucky enough to experience the wild side of Kenya and go on safari for two days in the Maasai Mara. Climate change is influencing our world, but inside the Mara it was a wonderland of life. From wildebeest to cheetahs, we experienced an incredible diversity. At night our tent was guarded by the Maasai so that elephants would not trample us. We fell asleep to the trumpeting of the elephants and low growls of lions in the distance. Our hearts synced up with the beat of the Motherland and we know how precious this life is for our planet.

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Namelok: “Sweet Land” in Maasai.  Rightly so.  We are truly welcome here.  “Visitors are blessings,” he said.  The village greets us and takes us into its loving arms.

As we painted Osoit Primary School in the middle of the rural Maasai village, Namelok, children surrounded us, elders came out to honor our work, and word traveled quickly about the “muzungu” painters.

There is no other feeling like being surrounded by thirty Maasai children all gazing at you with wide brown curiosity.  The innocence and excitement that perpetuates through each of them as they gently touched my arms, face, and clothes made me perfectly still.  So at peace in this moment, the happiness they shared reflected back to them through my wide open heart.

Back in the city of Nairobi we got a taste of the blossoming art scene, met several artists and writers, attended a literary festival at the National Museum, stayed on the campus of Evelyn College of Design while painting a mural in the honor of art activist Dan Eldon, got a lesson in politics from Mike Eldon and Evelyn Mungai, and danced our butts off to the music of ever so popular Sauti Sol.

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We changed pace drastically the following week as we found ourselves in the streets of Kibera, Africa’s largest slum, located right outside of Nairobi. We stayed with and learned from two talented and soulful artists, Mbuthia Maina and Solo Seven, while we got acquainted to the constant flow of people, kids, animals, trash, vendors, food, booze, and matatu buses through the narrow pathways between shacks that shared walls. We painted a colorful mural at a children’s shelter, brainstormed over candlelight at night, and completed our largest mural of the trip in an abandoned and blow out complex destroyed during post election violence in 2008, now a contemporary “museum” of socially conscious street art. Our eyes were wide open the whole time.

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The time we spent with the people in Kikuyu around an open fire roasting goat or in the Maasai boma sipping chai and recording their lives was significant and impactful. From Kenya to Los Angeles, we are all related and we all have stories to share.

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