Sitting around the campfire sometime in the mid 90's - 96 I think - Musa and I are hatching a plan to start a theatre company. He is an actor based in Chipata and has recently been 'discovered' by Theatre for Africa. He is on a worldwide tour of Guardians of Eden and the cast is camping in our garden in Mfuwe. I am coming to the end of a drama degree at university wondering what I'm going to do with my life. I have only just met Musa but we click immediately. He is funny and easygoing and has a certain something about him that I can't quite put my finger on. A type of magic I guess, that must be why he's such a good actor and why audiences love him so. His performance in Guardians is electric.
A couple of years later, late 1999, Fate is bored and picks up her big old snow globe and shakes things around a bit. Things whirl up in the air and slowly come back down to settle and once again Musa and I are thrown together. I've been a safari guide for a few years after my drama degree and am bored of this. I always swore I'd never be a guide - too easy a path to fall into where I live. And then out the blue Nick Ellenbogen from Theatre for Africa comes to our corner of the globe and says "I'm putting together a cast of 14 actors to tour around Southern Africa. I am getting 2 people from each Southern African country. Musa is on board and I want you to be the other Zambian." I think about it for all of one day. I cancel my trip with friends to climb Kilimanjaro. I can do that another time (yeah right!)
And so begins my friendship with Musa. Its a motley old crew, 2 Mozambiqueans, 2 Botswanans, 2 Malawians, 2 South Africans, 2 Zimbabweans, 2 Namibians and 2 Zambians - Musa and I. Surprisingly (14 actors all living and working together for months on end) we all get on really well - Musa has worked with many of them before and we fall into our two months of training in Cape Town and Namibia like we're old friends. We squabble, we bitch, we laugh, we tease and we play. Once the training is done we all go back to our respective countries for a year. We set up little theatre groups we conduct research on environmental issues and at the end of it all we all get back together with all the info we’ve gathered and make one big ol fancy play that tours around Southern Africa for a few months. At the end of it a new, mini version is created to take to Washington DC. Only 4 of us can go. The 2 Mozambiqueans and Musa and I. I’ve never been to DC; I’ve barely been out of Africa. Musa has; he shows me around, makes me feel at home. Takes me to the huge shopping malls where he buys a ridiculously large DVD player to take back home.
And so the seeds of Seka are sown. After this project we go back home and pick up where we left off. We form a company. We call it Seka. Which means to laugh in the local language. We train up seven actors. He lives with me for a while while he moves his family the 150km away from Chipata to Mfuwe. And we stumble along, making plays, training actors, spreading the magic. We have a two man show we perform. A fabulous Australian puppeteer comes for a few months and teaches us all how to make puppets. We go to the chief, he gives us a beautiful plot of land in the bush with a huge Tamarind tree for us to rehearse under. We’re not making any money, if anything we’re losing it, but we’re doing what we love and what we’re passionate about.
Then we get a break. A three year project based in Chipata. With salaries and everything! And so for three years we work our asses off. Seven actors plus Musa and I living in villages across rural Chipata. Week in and week out for 3 years we live in various little huts and classrooms across the region – us girls in one the guys in another, all squashed together – conducting research and making plays. In retrospect I realize what an awesome time that was and I think even at the time I did too. We made a super-cool team we did.
One day I say to Musa, “You know, I call myself a Zambian but I’ve never even tilled a field before, grown a crop” and so he offers me a patch of his back yard to hoe and plant. I share it with his 8 year old son George and I am the joke of the village. All the neighbours come and watch me plant – gawp at the crazy white lady - and Musa sits nearby and hoots with laughter along with the rest of them. I love it.
And we take the actors to perform in Joburg. Some of them have never even been outside their village before, let alone outside the country. They are wide eyed and open-mouthed. And cold. Musa and I chaperone them, show them the sights. We see the world through new eyes.
We also take the actors to Durban, this time bringing along Musa’s wife and son George, shortly after they lost their little boy to Malaria.
We make a road trip up to Tete, Mozambique. Live in a small village outside town trying to train actors in a language we are not familiar with. Luckily Musa knows more Chichewa than I and we get by pretty well.
In Tete town I turn off down a one-way street by mistake. A man walking down the road says “ Hey sister you are driving the wrong way!” Musa laughs and laughs “Your driving is so bad you even made a Mozambican speak English!”
In writing this I realize that we packed a lot in to the 15 years we have known each other. And I’m only writing down the half of it. In this time there have been children lost and children born, there have been good times there have been hard times, there has been sickness, there has been squabbling, making up and hard graft. Most of all though, there has been much much laughter.
We were colleagues, co-conspirators, but above all we were friends. And now he is gone. He died two weeks ago and has left such a gaping hole I just don’t even know where to begin.
There are too many memories to put down. But I needed to write down some before my chest cracks open and drowns me.