Tuesday, July 10, 2012


What does this word mean, content.

Is it an indication of comfort
of quality of life or wealth,
of possession of material goods?

When a farmer tells me they are content,
does it tell me that they are able to maintain
a sufficient supply of food for their family
or that they are generally in good health?

Does it mean they have somewhere covered
to lay their flesh bare elbows and ankles at night
so that their bones don't feel the resistance of concrete?

Does it mean that they have somewhere
to soak clean their clay like hands at the end of the day
or the means to mend the cracks and creases in their feet?

Does it mean that their cattle are out of the reach
of predators during the utter darkness of night,
so that maybe next year they'll have two milking cows,
instead of one?

I have been wrestling with the word since I got here
because for me 'content' has always been a shell of a word
which really communicates nothing besides a bare minimal happiness.

Content is the kind of word I would use
to describe my emotional state to people I don't really know
or people I don't want to go into detail with.

But what kind of life does the word content live
in this land of hard edges and soft vegetation?
For all I see around me are variations of the term,
broken frames of what I came here assuming it meant.

In Kenya I have discovered that this word is far from hollow.

When someone tells me they are content
it is sincere and well thought out
it is deliberate, not concealing or brief
it is insightful and intimate
not distant and meaningless.

For here I find that there are no requirements needed
to fill the word, to make it realized and whole.
No basic guidelines to make it true
but also no way of disqualifying its use.

The more time I spend in Kenya,
the more I am coming to believe that the word content
is not a descriptor of happiness as much as it is a
tangible expression of pride.

Those who have something to be proud of
are content,
those without it are restless.

In light of this new meaning of the word,
I will never again be able to pass off the word in the same way again
not now that I have learned of its all important purpose
in this place of bare necessity and perpetual growth.

Funny a word so simple
can live such a different life
half way across the world.

Funny an adjective
I once thought so vague and indecisive can in reality,
measure something so specific and complete,
as the fulfilment of a life.


This poem, is one born out of frustration on my part at the beginning of my time here in Kenya and one only able to be completed after a lot of reflection and one amazing experience at The Bomas of Kenya. Last weekend Morgan and I decided to make an impulsive trip to Karen, a suburb of Nairobi. Among the many fantastic things we did that weekend, I think one which I will never be able to shake the experience of was a dance performance at the Bomas of Kenya (see pictures above). I have attended a lot of traditional dance recitals, festivals and the like in the past, but there was something all together different about this. The Bomas is a sort of recreated Kenyan tribal village, meaning that each of the original tribes has a section of the grounds in which they have made replicas of traditional houses and tried to make tiny examples of what each village would look like. Along with this, there is a main auditorium of sorts which has a dance performance once a day from 2:30-4:30 pm. Again, each tribe is represented in at least once dance native to their region of origin. Some were power displays dances (see the Masai fighters in all red and beadwork), some were war dances (see the dancers in leather and white feathers), some were all together a mix of things (see the woman singing and men jumping), some were celebration songs (see the blurred woman dancing and circling the stage) and some were more displays of strength and braveness than dance (see the man bending below fire). Morgan and I had impeccable timing as usual (either that or we just have a natural magnet like relationship with children here) for we were almost the only true visitors in the auditorium that day, the rest of the audience was primary school children. It seemed as though there weren't enough seats for them all, so each school would shuffle in, quickly squeeze into seats, fill the floor, watch one or two dances, then shuffle their way out only for another school to move in and take their place. This odd flow of children continued the entire show. We were able to tell all of is apart, of course, because of their brightly coloured and unique uniforms which provided the perfect backdrop for the show (in addition to adding to the commotion). While not all of the performances were in key, in step or even extremely well danced, there was something so genuine about each performance, that it felt like these dances were really acts of unity. That they were something born of a mutual need amongst these groupings of people to display, in a funny sort of way, contentedness. Maybe it is in the sense that these dances reflect the fact that they are content enough with their lives to take the time to perform these intricate dances, or have the means to invest resources in the absolutely beautiful costumes, or that the legacy of these dances has maintained itself through all this time, but above all else I got the sense that these dances are really representative of a burning desire to show this sense of pride to others and to each other. Regardless of the audience, the dance continues, the dancers continue to try to outdo each other, to outdo one another, to jump the highest, sign the loudest, come up with the most over-the-top outfit. There is pride in the performance of the dance and in this pride, a reflection of contentedness.

Since the start of the trip I have had a hard time coming to grips with what people truly mean when they say they are content here (as it is used frequently). You can ask how someone is today and their reply is "I'm content". At first, using my own frame of the word, I found it odd, figured maybe people didn't want to share too much with me as I'm a stranger. Then, as time went on and I became friends with many of the farmers (clearly no longer in the role of stranger), I thought maybe it was the only english the person knew to respond to my question, but this was disproven when I began to ask it in Kikuyu or Swahili. I just couldn't shake it, why were people using this word specifically? A word I think of as impersonal, vague and in many ways, meaningless. Something representing a sense of evenness in emotion but little else. Like saying "I'm fine" instead of "I'm great". But the more and more I came into contact with it, the more I found myself questioning whether this word means something different here than I had assumed it meant, or have assumed it meant my whole life. The more I dug into its meaning, and especially after this experience at The Bomas, the more I began to see things in a different light. Maybe, all this time, the word content has meant, has encompassed more than I had ever imagined it could house. Maybe it is more than a measure of happiness and rather something much more complex. Maybe, in the end, it is truly a measurement of pride. Pride here seems to equate happiness, so in a way it is still descriptive of happiness, but in such a totally different way than I prescribe the term 'happiness' that I can't think of content as being this simple of a word ever again. I will leave you, the reader, to think about this for yourself, as I myself, have no come to a full conclusion about what implications this changing of meaning has on what the word content truly describes. This poem represents one of the many moments of utter reflection I have experienced on this trip and so I have chosen to share it. I have no other means to convey this realization or the fuel which fired it in me, other than through the words above and the blurry pictures (the lighting was near impossible to get good photos) but somehow the quality of the photos doesn't seem to take away much of the dances emotion or purpose. For now I will be content with my understanding of what this word means, at least here in Kenya, and walk away from my experience at The Bomas with a much deeper sense of what a word I hear every day, from farm to farm, may really mean.

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