Your say / Afrika Eye

‘It’s hard not to feel guilty when faced with such inequality’

By azita shamsolahi, Thursday Nov 9, 2017

In Bristol, I’m used to my friends having small, tidy gardens full of flowers outside their houses. But in western Kenya, where I spent a week making a short film, almost every house had long stalks of maize growing outside. Their gardens were essentially a mini-farm that they depended upon to feed their families. There was no popping down to the local supermarket here: everyone grew what they needed right on their doorstep.

After hours of travelling from the capital Nairobi, we finally reached an isolated farm in the village of Atapara where I was greeted by Alice and her mother-in-law, Agnes. These two women were the reason for my entire trip. Their story was to be the focus of a short film I was making for charity Send a Cow and their Mother & Child appeal.

Why Alice and Agnes? It was an attempt to escape the negative stereotypes of Africa, of bleak images of scorched earth and struggling communities. We wanted to create a documentary that captured everyday life in rural Kenya and celebrated families who had worked their way out of poverty. Alice and Agnes encapsulated such a success story.

A few years before, they were struggling to feed themselves and going hungry until Agnes started working with Send a Cow and things began to change. She learnt vital farming skills which improved her crop yields and she soon had enough to eat and sell.

They now live independently on a small farm with Alice’s young daughter Starlet. They aren’t living a life of luxury but they’re definitely happy. Alice is beautiful, confident and smart; she speaks three languages fluently and calls out gender inequality when she sees it. Agnes is strong, hardworking and respected. She’s the first female elder of her village and everyone looks up to her. They are wonderful examples of Africa’s women farmers. To me, they are inspirational.

From day one I could see the warmth and friendship between these two women. Their house was a simple building with a corrugated iron roof that rattled loudly in the rain. But they had the security of knowing where their next meal was coming from and were making enough money to send Starlet to school.

So much care and skill went into growing food on the farm and each meal was lovingly prepared over a handmade fire. I kept thinking about how different it was to the ‘foodie’ city of Bristol where everything is so widely available and easily accessible. I literally have four supermarkets within walking distance of my house in Fishponds and I eat out at least once a week. It’s hard not to feel guilty when faced with inequality like this. Instead, I remind myself to be grateful and appreciative of the food that I do have.

When we returned from shooting the film, the artistic community of Bristol stepped up to help us finish it. We ventured into the world of video freelancers working from Pithay Studios in Broadmead, where an editor called Catarina Oliveira brought our narrative to life. Next, we found that Bristol’s Afrika Eye Film Festival were excited by the project, and wanted to premiere it at Watershed.

By creating this film, we wanted to show the people of Bristol and beyond that there is so much more to Africa than we often see on the news, and that families can overcome poverty given the right support. In return, the creative networks of Bristol have supported us by giving it editorial shape and a public platform. Talk about an international effort!

Watching the film back now, I think we managed to get the beauty and simplicity of rural life across and celebrate women like Alice and Agnes. I just hope others feel the same when they watch it.

Azita lives in Fishponds with her husband and dog, and works for charity Send a Cow. Catch her documentary Alice & Agnes at Watershed on Sunday November 12 as part of Afrika Eye Film Festival: www.afrikaeye.org.uk/send-a-cow-alice-agnes.

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