Penn in Kenya, Day 15

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Taking a break from filming, the Penn students and the FilmAid students climbed a local hill and danced to music from a van radio.

July 21, 2017

Post by Jennifer Chen, Class of 2020, a Cinema and Media Studies major from Saratoga, Calif.

Against the backdrop of a magnificent sunset on a wide open desert, we danced to reggae radio music and leaped off the roof of our good ol’ van. It was just a usual day in Kakuma with the most unusual spontaneous perfect end.

Today’s breakfast welcomed the first bite of a passionfruit for many of us. The seeds within this greenish mini-avocado-looking fruit have the perfect refreshing taste of sour-then-sweet, which heralded how the day would go. All four teams spent our mornings wrapping up the last bits of filming and pushing through post-production. The sweetest part of our day came in the afternoon, when we’d have our first official break since our arrival in Kakuma.

My team divided and conquered different tasks in the morning — I edited, while the rest of my team ventured out in the field and conducted two more interviews. Our project is on creating two separate orientational films on PROTECTION and LIVELIHOOD in Kalobeyei. I absolutely love my team, which is composed of Jesse and Jean from Penn and Malok, Kenny, Heritier, and Gabuu from FilmAid. If you don’t mind, I’d like to shamelessly plug in some details about each of them because it is people like them who have made this experience so priceless. Jesse, aka ‘our security guard’ initially mistaken by FilmAid students, is a US army veteran who possesses some of the world’s most amazing life experiences and has the magical ability to crack anyone up at anytime. Jean, a Penn alumna writer-director, is the ‘mom’ on this trip and whom I constantly look up to due to her spontaneous sense of humor and heart of gold. Malok is a super tall, caring, sweet South Sudanese guy who loves taking photos with our Canon when it’s not recording an interview; he also has a audio production named Chase Records. Kenny, a local Kenyan whose parents have been living in Kakuma for over 20 years, is a big fan of RNB and wants to eventually produce his own music. Heritier, our ever so important sound guy, is 26 and Congolese, and holds the hugest smile literally 24/7. He started a production company named Exile Key Films that just premiered a film named It Has Killed My Mother in Nairobi yesterday! And finally, Gabuu. Every time I pulled out my vlog camera, Gabuu would lift up his head, look down from his nose, and crack a cool smile, “Hi I’m Gabuu.” He is a talented director originally from South Sudan who has a production company named Black Legacy Pictures (check it out on Facebook *hint hint).

Editing resembles a marathon, both requiring a lot of time and patience. But the continuous moral support that came from everyone lightened my job by a lot. Because of how important it is to inform the new residents of Kalobeyei about the protection agencies and services there, our protection film ended up with nine interviews including two more that we are conducting and adding in tomorrow.

No pain, no gain. Our afternoon off felt even more rewarding after a full week of nonstop working. Peter suggested the most relaxing way to unwind (!!) — hiking the Kalemchuch Hill from 2-5pm and conveniently taking some VR shots. Laurel, Nicholas, Melisande, and I all tagged along. Little did we know, Henry, a wonderful FilmAid staff and this mini-trip’s director, took us first to his favorite teahouse in an Ethiopian neighborhood. It was my first time inside a host community teahouse, and I found it welcoming and its homie vibe surprisingly similar to teahouses in other countries like China. A citrus smell of incense greeted us upon stepping foot. Under the dimly lit roof sat many people chattering, sipping coffee, watching TV. Although it is a teahouse, it only serves coffee. I had never had a cup of coffee before (Starbucks green tea latte doesn’t count), and I was extra glad that I saved my first time for Kakuma. The Kakuma teahouse mochiatto was fresh, creamy, and delicious. Over coffee, our conversation wandered from peanut allergy to biking road trips to ideas for VR, while occasionally focusing on ideas to further continue the goals of this trip and FilmAid through exhibitions and fundraisers.

It wasn’t until 5pm that we departed for the Kalemchuch Hill. Something I learned here is that a lot of the time, you just have to go with the flow — hop on the car and get off when told to. We were expecting Kalemchuch to be some kind of big mountain, but instead when we got off the car we were faced by several small rocky hills in the middle of a desert. The way up consisted of losing footing on unstable rocks, dodging thorny plants, and screaming at exotically enormous centipedes. Once on top of one of the peaks, it was exhilarating to see Turkana from all directions under golden rays of sunshine peeking through the gloomy clouds. If there were a kingdom of lions, giraffes, and zebras lining up under our feet, I’d really feel like I was on the set of The Lion King.

The sun was setting quickly when we congregated with Henry and the four other FilmAid people at the bottom of the hills. Under the open sky, we rocked to reggae radio music and copied each other’s dance moves, which quickly escalated into doing cartwheels and climbing onto the van. It was an amazing scene. Peter came in clutch with the camera to capture the unrepeatable moment.

On the cracked sandy ground, the settlement houses blend into the horizon. I felt connected to the earth and devoured by the intense orange sky but strangely more connected to Kakuma than ever. Although Kakuma is home to an enormous refugee camp and contains many devastating stories, it serves as a sanctuary for them all. Although its land is arid, its nature has cultivated joy and hope in its protected residents.

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