Friday morning. October 12, 2018
I get to work and after saying hi to the usual suspects who incubate at the eBox, my attention is drawn to these two boys who should clearly be in school sitting at The table.
Now you may ask why it’s called The table. The table is red and circular (very inviting). At The table is where School of Rhyme students; aspiring artists, gather every other day of the week to practice their writing and rhyming skills.
At The table is where stars are made.
“Tulifukuzwa juu ya school fees” replies Brighton with a slight laugh when I ask him why he’s not in school.
Intrigued, I probe further.
“School fees ya how much”
There are two boys at The table but Brighton who is writing something on a piece of paper as his friend watches over his shoulder, speaks for the both of them most of the time.
“Yake ni 16k”
His friend can’t hide his reaction on this big fat lie that Brighton just fixed his mouth to tell me.
“Anadanganyaaa. Si 16k” he replies with a hearty accusatory laugh.
“Yaani Brighton unanidanganya?”
“Ni ukweli hajalipa since class 2,3 na 4” Brighton replies laughing
I fold and burst out laughing at a situation that really shouldn’t be a joke. But these 10 year olds are making a joke out of it and here I am. Laughing.
Brighton’s friend – who has a really hard name that I mispronounced at my first attempt and promptly forgot the whole mispronounced name as soon as I said it – is out of school because of Ksh. 350.00
You did not read that wrong. It is not three thousand five hundred or thirty five thousand. It is three hundred and fifty Kenyan shillings.
I asked twice just to confirm.
I can’t explain what I felt at that moment but I had to put on a poker face. For the boys’ sakes. And mine. Mostly mine.
I’ll try to articulate what I felt
Surprised because when is the last time I heard or even thought of people being kicked out of school for the lack of fees.
Sad it’s never happened to me. Ever. And these little boys are out here missing out on what is supposed to be their right. And they are not fazed by it. It’s part of life here.
Angry – Inequality. 350. Why is this happening to kids while their government is mysteriously “losing” billions
Embarrassed– I am positive that I will spend more than Ksh.350 today and won’t even think twice about it but a kid is out of school because of the same amount.
Brighton doesn’t know exactly how much his school fees is. I’m a little relieved that there are no numbers here.
I sit across the boys and get to work. I look up plenty of times when i realize Brighton is writing rhymes on his piece of paper. He is singing according to the beat to see if he’s on the right track, constantly correcting his lines as his friend bops his head.
I hadn’t even realized that since i got here, on the speakers has been a constant beat playing over and over until someone asked why is the beat on repeat and we are told Brighton is using it.
That’s the thing about growing up in the hood. If school fails you, art will always be there for you. These kids are the living breathing walking testimony. They have been kicked out of school and have found a safe space at DHC where they can learn something else. It is 10 am and they are sitting here in silence writing just as they would have been if they were in school.
“Wacha nikuibie siri ya kuandika rhymes” says Ramsizo, one of DHC’s finest rappers.
He is across the room by the library cataloguing books but I guess he must have been watching Brighton struggle a little bit with his delivery because he walks over to him and opens his own book and offers his two cents on how to write.
“Usiandike ka composition, andika kwa side moja ya book” He says as he shows him what he has recently written in his own book. “Ka unataka kuanza tena anza, ka unataka nikupee karatasi ingine nitakupea. Sawa?”
This is like a revelation to Brighton because he starts over again and within a few minutes he is done and ready to perform for us, his audience.
I later ask Ramsizo why he advised Brighton on writing like that and he puts it simply “Mziki ni poetry. Kuna structure”
The words in Brighton’s rap pack quite the punch.
“Sina kiatu so sijui nivae nini
Baba ananishow hana caro ya shule
Ati niende shule ndio nikule njaro
Biro imekwama so sijui nifanye nini
Si mistari tu, ni mistari blue
Baba ananishow niendelee na mistari
Tuko fix huku tuko DHC
Ma-rapper wanasay ati DHC
Ni ile place imejaa ma VIP
Marapper wanasay ati bright-tunde
Ndio ule boy ule wa mistariiii
Tunaenda home tunarudi na maganji”
The table. It is very inviting. At The table, Brighton wrote his first rhymes under the mentorship of one of the finest rappers in DHC. It might have been a wasted day in terms of education but he found a way to express what was happening in his life. Through rap. When life gives you lemons…
Right after he was done with his mini performance Ramsizo run up to him and gave him a big hug and a few words
“Sasa wewe ni msanii. Hizo ni rhymes zako. Ziweke vipoa.”
The boys leave and it’s back to staring at our computer screens and happily so. This little interaction reminds me why i chose to be a part of DHC. Moments like these are the reason I keep coming back. It is a safe space for all in the community. Young, old, homeless, men, women, good or bad.
If all else fails you, DHC will always have your back.