When Charity Faith was going to Poland, the only downside for her, was that her mother did not take her to the airport. Everyone she was travelling with had their parents coming. Save for two. She still wishes her mum had come. ‘She would have loved the big lights,’ she says. ‘Maybe she would have seen a real grounded plane, for the first time.’ It would have given her a break from the normal things she has seen. Her mother, Margaret, had to stay back in Lakisama, Nairobi, to work in order to put food on the table for her two brothers. They would be coming home in the evening as they normally would. Everything else worked perfectly.
Charity Faith is a new person.
The new Charity Faith is saying and doing the things the old Charity Faith never thought she would ever be saying and doing. The old charity faith loved listening to R&B. Now she is a credible player in an orchestra.
The new Charity Faith says things like, ‘My mother is my hero and I really want to make that woman so proud and get her out of this slum.’ I have seen her struggle with us, and she inspires me.’ ‘I want to play in a Jazz Band. I want to arrange music for a big orchestra.’
Charity wants more girls to be given an opportunity to play music all over the world. She also says, ‘more’ girls should earn their places in band and orchestras by practising and being dedicated to the music. Charity Faith, speaks like a sage, wisdom beyond her years, her past and her circumstances. She is only 17 years old, and she lives in Lakisama. She used to come to Korogocho regularly, but now she is in Form 4 at Kariobangi North Secondary School.
Once upon a regular Sunday afternoon, in 2014, Charity left home for the Saint John’s Catholic Church, in Korogocho. She had been at the church earlier that morning, for regular Sunday Mass. She was a flower girl and a very good flower girl at that. Top of the crème, you would say. Flower girls are the young girls who dance at the Catholic Church during mass and other special events like weddings and baptisms. She was in class 8 and preparing to sit her class 8 exams. Her time was choked up in books, in revision, going over the syllabus and reading. Sunday afternoon is all she had to herself, and she chose to use it as a flower girl.
‘I came to church in the afternoon for flaa-waa practice and I saw so many young guys in the compound. I wondered what they were doing since they were not dancing with the rest of us. And then I heard a strange sounding musical melody. So I went to the hall to see what that was.’
It was a violin. It was a new sound to her. She had also never seen a violin before.
Charity, pronounced by her peers as a quick Cha-Ree-Tee, sat through what was a demonstration and practice by a white lady. She was so interested in that instrument together with the 50 other young people in there on that day, most from Korogocho Slums. She purposed to touch it. So she came again and again and again. Until it was her turn to try it out. And when she did, a love affair with a genre of music she had never heard of, began. She never went back to being a fla-waa again.
She had loved listening to Enrique Iglesias as a favourite artist. She giggles so hard at it. Maybe it was a crush. She denies it. She just loved how smooth that music felt. That is what the local radio gave her.
Once she had played it, the tutor gave her entire 8 possible Sunday afternoons, save none, to that piece of instrument, the violin. She would give her time to it, and very soon she became a member of the Ghetto Classics.
‘I played the violin for a whole two months before I left it. I left it because we got new instruments. I got a new challenge in the percussion section. I don’t remember how to play the violin now.’
Charity hid the fact that she was no longer interested in being a flower girl from her mother. She saw minimal growth in playing the violin and the new instruments, and it frustrated her. The people she had started with, who were consistent with practice, grew immensely in skill and talent right before her eyes. So she focused on her schooling. After she had done her KCPE Exams, she went all in. ALL.
‘I think I played every day. In the first two months, I felt I had caught up with almost everyone. And then it was time to go to secondary school. She prayed to the God she used to dance for, that she would not go to a boarding school.’
Boarding school would have worked better for their family. It would have given her mother a peace of mind, knowing that her last born daughter was far away and in school, safe away from the influence in the slums of Eastlands. An influence that begot doom for both mothers of sons and mothers of daughters. She may have been afraid that the slums would give her a grandchild before she was ready. But also, she had been a burdened single mother for a long time. She was breaking her back to take care of Charity, and her two brothers.
‘My brothers are not working; they are trying to make ends meet. My mother has chosen to provide for us to keep us all so far away from desperation. So she provides all of us as a family a hot meal every day. They have to come home every day, to have a meal, and then go to where they stay, also within Lakisama.’
When her mother says ‘to keep them far away from desperation’, you know what she means. It’s in her eyes. She is telling her children, ‘as long as I am still alive, you have an option and that option is me.’ Desperation sends people to jail. It sends young girls to beg, and pay for it. Desperation brings kids, and maybe disease. Desperation eats off stolen things, and sometimes desperation leads to the morgue, and back to the ancestral land. Desperation takes off dignity. In the slums, desperation keeps you playing hide and seek, with death itself.
Her mother keeps desperation away with real actions.
Charity doesn’t have a father. Ok, she does. But she doesn’t know him. She has never met him. Plus no one has ever come asking around for her. She is ok with that. That is why, when she speaks, you know it is wisdom from her mother. Like she says, ‘I am not going to depend on any man to provide for me. I am going to work crazy hard. I will settle down when I know I am stable. I won’t depend on anyone.’
She did not know what her mother would do if she knew she had stopped being a flower girl, and now plays instruments in a classical orchestra. She kept it to herself and then she waited, until the right time. And then she told her.
Margaret Adhiambo, Charity’s mother, sat silently with other parents inside one of the rooms that is used by Ghetto Classics at St. John’s. Or Saintee. They had been summoned for a meeting. All parents had children who had been part of Ghetto Classics for around 3 years. It was in early April this year, 2018. A series of events had preceded this.
One of the Ghetto Classics directors, Simon Mwaniki, had asked about 22 members to bring him their original birth certificates. They found it odd, but since it was Ghetto Classics, all of them obliged. Those who did not have were told to ask their parents to find them. Secondly, rumours had started doing rounds that some Ghetto Classics members would be flying out. It was not a strange rumour. Some Ghetto Classics members had flown in and out of the country occasionally. And finally, there seemed to be an unusual buzz of activity and meetings around Ghetto Classics.
The meeting was called to inform parents of the selected members of the Orchestra for the upcoming Brave Festival Tour in Poland. Parents were informed of everything the trip entailed and what would be required on the part of the parents and on the part of the students. Parents were given the right to decline their children’s participation in the tour.
‘After the meeting,’ Charity says, ‘my mum came home and told me, that there was a trip to Poland, for the Brave Festival in July of 2018. She said that I had been selected and that they were asked if it was ok if the parents would allow the children to go before they could make the announcement.’
Charity was not worried; she is in Form Four, about to finish her O Levels. She knew she had zero chance of travelling. She had the June – July Mocks lined up, and then she had CATS. She did not wait for the answer her mum gave. She was sure she was not travelling. Her mum kept quiet for most of the evening.
When her brothers came for dinner, Charity’s mum made the announcement.
‘Your sister is going to Poland in July.’ Everyone almost choked on their food. Charity’s mum looked straight at her.
She stared back in disbelief. They continued eating.
‘Do you really like this thing you are doing, this music thing?’ She asked her.
‘Yes. Mother.’ She replied. She called her mother, Mother.
‘If this is the thing you love, I want you to do it with everything you have. If you don’t stop, wasting everyone’s time. Find something you like and do it.’
‘I love playing with the guys at GC, mother.’ She replied.
‘Sawa. You are going to Poland. You have my permission.’ She gave her answer.
‘What about the MOCKS. They are in July?’ She was the now asking her mother questions.
‘Have you ever heard that exams have ever run out on anyone?’ He mother rejoined.
‘No. Not yet. But…’ She replied, shocked.
‘Finish your food. You are going to Poland.’
She finished her food. Her mother later explained to her that she could always resit the exams. The growth she had seen in her daughter since she discovered she played in an orchestra had created great faith in her.
Over time, Charity had become more organized in everything she did. Her studies, and when she is home around the Ghetto Classic practice and activities. She practised almost every day, and she was actually good at it. She had become a better time manager because she now has no time to waste. Making music made a difference for Charity.
Her best subjects are math and English. Anyone who loves math doesn’t play with books. You know.
Charity had always wanted to be a journalist. She focused on English, and Maths as key prerequisites. Journalism was her way out of the ghetto. But not anymore. She wants to make music and play the world over. And Poland was a great starting point for her.
The travelling party met at the church to pack and get all their instruments ready for travel. Their parents joined them. Charity’s mother prayed for them before they left for the airport. She encouraged Charity and told her to be good, and to be safe, and to be at her best.
5 girls had been selected to go. Only three were available to travel to Poland. For some reason, two girls were not going to be able to make it for the tour. That is why she asked her tutor, ‘why are there no other girls in the Orchestra?’ She asked Seline Akumu. The third girl in the tour was Lewinski Atieno. Charity made sure she did her best because she had to represent the girls. The other lady in the team was Dr. Elizabeth Njoroge, the founder of Art of Music, and Ghetto Classics.
Charity Faith played the drum set in a total of four performance shows. Her biggest inspiration at the Brave Festival in Poland was the guy called Manolo Badrena. She wants to play better than him. She doesn’t have a drum set teacher so she has to do a lot of memory work and come to perfect everything during practice. The percussionists have purposed to learn from each other.
Her ears are also getting better. She can tell when a tone is off.
Charity Faith is currently not part of the Safaricom Youth Orchestra, and will not be playing in the upcoming Safaricom International Jazz Lounge featuring Diane Reeves, on 18th and 20th October, 2018, because her final exams are coming up. However, she will be rooting for everyone in the Orchestra, and her teammates from the Ghetto Classics.
She dreams of owning her own drum set, to give her more practice time. She is sure she will get one.
The old Charity Faith is dreaming a lot, for the future Charity Faith.
‘Wacha exams ziishe. Just watch this space.’ She quips at the end.
We will Charity. We will be watching out for you.
The Ghetto Classics is a program that equips underprivileged youth with music skills and it has been supported by proceeds from the Safaricom International Jazz Festival since 2014. The beneficiaries of this programme are currently pre-teens and teens from Korogocho slums. Here, they have been equipped with skills in classical and jazz performance. The Ghetto Classics program was started by Elizabeth Njoroge and Fr John Webootsa.
Paul Otieno is a Creative Director and Storyteller in Creative Writing, Photography and Film. He and his partner, have 3 girls, a 4-year-old and her two years old twin sisters. He says he is the Father of the Dragons. You can find him on all social media platforms as @Paushinski or find him on his blog, www.paushinski.co.ke