How do I Look?

I never quite know what to expect when I attend an Ideagasm. There have been moments of surprise, disappointment, shock and even life-changing clarity at these ‘conversation’ events that have been running at Storymoja for a little over a year. The participants are generally different every time although we do have a consistent group of return visitors. My privilege as the organizer of Storymoja Ideagasms means that I have gotten to see how very similar human beings we are and yet how different we can be when we align ourselves with little cliques and collectives.

Ideagasms do not have a moderator per se. Yes, an organizer, me, who selects attendees, sends invites and sit very near the fire extinguisher. I occasionally do stand up in mid-session to try and give someone with a soft voice a ‘hush room’ so they can get a chance to speak. But the general format of an Ideagasm is that it is an open forum and a safe zone within a free speech zone. My job is generally to try and maintain the delicate balance between free speech and total chaos.

Each session generally has a provocation. A provocation is a thought or idea meant to provoke thought and internalized perspective. Participants have the choice to air their views, challenge the provocation, or go off tangent into a related topic that seems to be more urgent. Usually, Ideagasms are held at Storymoja Offices, but once in a while we accept an invitation to hold an Ideagasm with a group in their own space.

This past weekend, the Ideagasm was a Storymoja /Sondeka Ideagasm held at Creatives Garage Offices. Creatives Garage is an organization which among other things also organizes the Sondeka Festival. The just concluded Storymoja Festival’s theme was Imagine the World. The upcoming Sondeka Festival’s theme is ‘Create the Future You Want.’ The Ideagasm’s Provocation was: Language and Self-Articulation.

It occurs to me that the Ideagasm started long before the actual session begun. When I first arrived at Creatives’ Garage, there was the usual mini-frenzy surrounding organising a festival. But at several intervals while I waited for the Ideagasm participants to arrive, someone or the other stopped to talk to me. I was offered coffee.

Then Shiru, worrying about the fact that everyone seemed a little late brought up the topic of the strange traffic patterns in Nairobi. It occurred to me that human beings worked like swarms and in cities like Nairobi, swarms whose general driving instinct is to avoid traffic jams. The only problem is that the swarm instinctual drive is what actually causes the traffic jams, frustration and general city road chaos.

Not long after this, Kip took a break from making tracking spreadsheets to tell us about his insane (but perfectly logical) early Sunday morning movie theatre fun. And then he showed us the book book ad. I wondered if in a few years it might not be quite necessary to tell our kids about book books as opposed to ebooks and other forms of books.

Once our little group of thinkers got together over the kitchen table at Creatives’ Garage with Sandwiches, Cake and lots of milk, the conversation did finally get started.

The question all men are terrified of came up. How do I look?

I laughingly recalled my mum’s answer: How do you want to look?

And in that a long conversation ensued about validation, choices based on other people’s preferences rather than your own and ultimately the woman’s right and choice to dress and look the way she wants for her own self rather than to please someone or to avoid being assaulted.

Somewhere in the conversation, someone brought up the issue of people who feel they have some kind of right to know and have a say in other persons’ choices. From the random guy in a room who suddenly inquires of another, “Are you bisexual?’ to the relatives who demand of their nieces at weddings, “So when are you getting married?”

Where are the boundaries? Who has the right to ask these questions? And why in the world do we ALL get defensive even when we are convinced that we have no need to feel defensive about the choices we make?

I am not sure at which point we switched over to a discussion on collective inertia. But somewhere in there the question came up about a recent case that has received way too much and the wrong kind of publicity on social media. Why did the people present not act immediately? To which someone responded, how do you know no one acted immediately? And someone else asked, do our reactions to bad things that happen give the perpetrators fame and deny the victims justice? Can you be absolutely sure that you will react in the RIGHT way when something that is obviously WRONG happens in your presence?

This led to confessions of times when we have found ourselves frozen in place and just watched perpetrations of injustice happen around us. We did try to console ourselves with the times when we overcame our fear and acted in courageous ways, some of which could almost certainly have resulted in our deaths in the hands of an insane mob. But our consolations were far outweighed by the responsibility each of us felt when we realised that more than once we have watched in shock or silence as something bad happened and we did nothing about it.

So, in the spirit of #Sondeka, we all made vows to right our Karmas by being more courageous, more aware, more true to the things we believe in. Join us in our bid to #Sondeka our Karmas!


What is Sondeka Festival?

The word ‘Sondeka’ is a Sheng (Kenyan urban colloquial) word meaning “to make” or “create”. And true creation comes when people are free to express themselves and that is what the Sondeka Festival is all about. It is three explosive days from 18th to 20th October 2014, of creation, curation, innovation, fun, games, music, dance, till you drop, just people expressing themselves freely. All events run concurrently at various venues within the Ngong Racecourse.



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