19-02-2022 by Freddie del Curatolo
Nine years in Kenya, lived in a village where you are more or less the only white woman, even if not far from the comforts and lightness of tourist destinations, are worth at least twice as much in experience and less than half as much in aging.
All this you immediately intercept in the lively eyes of Laura Scrivani and you understand it from what she has done and continues to do. The last of her many experiences in direct contact with the local communities on the coast, a period with the Mijikenda elders in the village where they are protected from the threats of those who want to kill them under the pretext of witchcraft.
Laura, a goldsmith from Piacenza, a traveler by passion and by the need for a wandering and curious soul, began visiting Kenya in 2009, after having toured the African continent far and wide, always preferring real situations, inserted in local contexts.
"For me, the approach to being African was normal, even in Watamu and Malindi, but without ever feeling like a heroine or renouncing my origins - she recounts - on the contrary, I must admit that one of the reasons that pushed me in 2013 to move and open a bed&breakfast was precisely being in Africa and feeling at home, in a place where you can eat a pizza every now and then, hear Italian spoken and not be completely an alien".
So Laura settled in Msoloni, in the hinterland of Mayungu, in contact with nature, humble people and millenary stories and legends: from the evocative power of baobabs to the healing power of herbs such as neem and moringa, from the ancestral strength of women to the tradition of good witchcraft.
"I approached it with a desire to learn and share - she confirms - and I realized that the last thing we should do here is judge. In these years I've been an attentive and interested observer, I've experienced real-life situations that are also hard to accept, at first I got angry and indignant, then I understood that there are mechanisms and reasons so distant from our way of thinking that we can't evaluate them with our own yardstick. And that's right."
During her journey, she hosted for five years in her small and well-kept guest-house "Mimi na rangi" many Italians to whom she transmitted her love for Kenya, helping them to understand its contradictions and to see, as Battiato sang, "the dawn within the dusk".
A path that was interrupted with the arrival of the pandemic and the blockade of tourism.
"At that time I gladly accepted the proposal of Karibuni Onlus to take care of the construction of traditional huts that would host the elders of the Mijikenda community that the Malindi District Cultural Association (MADCA) takes care of and protects - explains Laura - I had already sadly come across their terrible story: for years against the old wise men of the villages of Kilifi County there is a real manhunt, because accusing them of witchcraft and executing them, the young people take possession of the lands of their fathers and may decide to sell them, something that an elder would never do, because the land for a Mijikenda is everything, it is the basis of life and survival. The murder in 2014 of the spiritual father of the Giriama, Mzee Katana Kalulu, not far from my house, shocked me and I thought that sooner or later I would have to do something for them. I lost both parents at a very young age and I see in their looks, their friendly ways and their need for assistance, the old age of my father and mother that I could not live."
The MADCA village, near the mouth of the Sabaki River, was more or less an encampment of rudimentary huts that had Red Cross tents as roofs. Thanks to donations that came to Karibuni, five large, well-structured traditional homes were built that can withstand the rains and accommodate more people. But Laura didn't stop there, she also wanted to personally contribute to the improvement of the living conditions of the "elders", turning the beautiful photographs taken during her visits to the village, where she also collected stories, curiosities and legends, into something useful.
"With the help of Katoi Wa Tabaka, an activist for the rights of the Mijikenda and a musician, an essential aid to the project, I transformed the village into a fun and realistic photographic set and its inhabitants into protagonists. Another lover of the real Kenya, Laura Allegri, from Italy helped me with the graphics, printing and distribution, and last October we started to propose it on social networks, telling the story and the charitable purposes".
It was a great success: in a short period of time, 5,000 euros were collected, with which the new huts were furnished with beds and mattresses and tools were provided, as well as medicine for the elderly.
"Everything that was left over was handed over to MADCA who will use it for the daily support of the elderly - explains Laura - I hope with this initiative to have opened the conscience of many people, including locals, on this page of history of our time in Kenya that can not go unnoticed. It's a hard reality to accept and I myself, living in a rural area, feel the danger of those who side with the elderly. I have been singled out as a "friend of witch doctors" several times and have been warned against it. But it is not in my nature to lower my guard: always with respect and calmness, I explain my reasons and those of the elders who are the custodians of the history of these people and their traditions".
The calendar "African Culture Mijikenda" 2022 is still available and, as mentioned, the proceeds will go to the association MADCA, in defense of the elderly at risk. For information you can write to Laura Scrivani, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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