If history used to repeat itself, now its speeding up. I wanted to talk to my friend Papa, who lives in Kenya, today about his upcoming action for Connect the Dots. But he said he couldn’t talk, it was raining too hard, so we chatted on Facebook instead. Around our chat box, were typical facebook pictures of friends relaxing in the sun, gathered around a table or drinking a bit too much. His words cut through them like lightning. I felt I could hear the rain pounding on the thin metal roof.

I don’t know where he is right now, he had to sign off. They had to move to higher ground.

Papa is a dancer, choreographer and climate organizer in Kenya. He uses movement as a way to understand and share what is happening around him. Currently he is the choreographer and assistant director for Ondieki the Fisherman, Kenya’s first opera. The piece will be performed on May 5th. As his contribution to the Connect The Dots project, Papa has choreographed a series of circular motions and lighting forms into the fabric of the piece.

In the opera, Papa sees a contemporary commentary on climate change. Just minutes ago Papa told me, “The story is set in the shores of Lake Victoria and touches on the life of the fishermen. The major character is a lazy and careless fisherman who doesn’t care about the storm and warnings of his elders. In the end the major character drowns and dies in the lake. Flood sweeps the populace and people mourn for the loss.” Two minutes later he wrote “As I write this now, I am at a friend’s who lives near a river. The river has just blown the wall and the whole floor is water. I wonder how we gonna sleep.”

The parable of the story was arriving upon his doorstep. Kenya, like much of Africa is ahead of its times climatically. Effects that are predicted to come in 20 years for much of the world are already making life much harder in much of Africa. Extreme droughts, melting glaciers, floods, desertification, and other impacts are becoming the norm in Africa – the continent that has done the least to cause the impacts it is now experiencing. Injustice grows.

To be honest, most Kenyans will probably never see this opera or any, they will never see Papa’s circular dances that evoke the symbolic Dots we are trying to connect on May 5th, they will never hear the gasps of the singer in between her notes. The local newspaper’s only quote said “If packaged well, Kenyan opera can be an addition to what Kenya has to offer tourists in addition to game, sun and sand.” The newspaper isn’t connecting the dots between the rain that, as I write, is rising in the house Papa just abandoned and the floods that drowned Ondieki. Papa wrote, “…we’re moving out of the house now to go on higher grounds. This is not going to be in any Kenyan news. No reporters reach this part.” On May 5th we need to be telling the stories that the mainstream media, with their full page car advertisements and One-Week-Kenyan-Safari-Vacation commercials, are not telling.

This opera, like so many traditional stories, focuses on the importance of respect for traditional knowledge. Ondieki was “careless” and ignored this knowledge; he didn’t mend his nets or mind the storms. In the end of the opera, he drowns in the same lake he fished in, dragged down by his own un-mended nets.

These are strong words to heed right now, as the affects of two centuries of careless indulgence begin to grasp us faster than we imagined possible. It is up to us to decide if we will be like Ondieki and drown by the ruptures we have provoked, or if we will mend our nets and continue to fish they way stories have taught us.

Papa signed off quickly, “We’ve been forced to run to higher grounds. So i gotta log off. Will communicate some other time. This is really ugly.” I don’t know where Papa is right now.
Join us on May 5th to Connect the Dots between extreme weather, climate change, and its causes. The media won’t tell this story – so we have to. Its time the real story was told.