I Will Marry When I Want: Telling Our Own Stories ...

By Nancy Kasvosve, University of Chicago 11'

"University of Chicago's African and Caribbean Students Association stages Ngugi Wa Thiong'o iconic play 'I WIll Marry When I Want' to a sold out crowd. Usap student Nancy Kasvosve stars."

Yes! The African and Caribbean Students Association (ACSA) at the University of Chicago had a sold out show! From our friends that we harassed to attend this show to all the people who showed up for the stage play, May 1st 2009 was a milestone for our organization and a very touching night for all in attendance.

Nancy Kasvosve leads fellow cast members in the stage play "I WIll Marry When I Want"

Nancy Kasvosve (in yellow) leads fellow cast members in the stage play "I WIll Marry When I Want"

"I WILL MARRY WHEN I WANT," a comedy on love; a satire on religion and a scathing political attack. The story starts with a Kenyan farm laborer, Kiguunda, and his wife Wangeci and their efforts to protect their small piece of land from being bought out to erect an insecticide factory. The one bit of pride the couple has is a title-deed to their one-and-a-half acres of land, hanging on the wall. The drama that ensues is ironically comical but serious; it sympathizes with the peasant labourer examining how those who fought for Kenya's liberation grow corrupt with power and collude with the imperialists to keep their economic foothold in the country as well as how religion and Christian missionary conspire to complicate economic challenges.

Prolific political scholar, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, wrote the text for this neo-colonialist satire 10 years after Kenya's independence as a public performance, recruiting village peasants for an open-air theater showing. Publicly identified with unequivocally championing the cause of ordinary Kenyans, and committed to communicating with them in the language of their daily lives, Ngugi was detained without trial and subsequently forced into exile.

ACSA debuted America's first ever staging of this political classic for our annual cultural show. The deconstruction of neocolonialism illustrated in this play, unfortunately, resonates to challenges in political economies in the African and Caribbean population world over today. When Ngugi Wa Thiong'o wrote the play, he stirred a lot of controversy. To this day others still are of the opinion that Ngugi's politics are twisted. His socialist point of view was rejected by his people and he was exiled from Kenya for this work. As many wrong ideas as there are in his views, there are also many right views. The Mau Mau Rebellion had brought political independence to Kenya, but there had been no change to the social conditions of the common people. Ten years down the line, when Ngugi staged "I WILL MARRY WHEN I WANT," the peasants were still wallowing in poverty, after having sacrificed their lives for want of a better one that never came. Ngugi was challenging the Kenyan government to deliver an independence to the people more than one just written on paper. Twenty-seven years after his declaration that challenge has still not been brought to face for much of our motherland, Africa.

ACSA stood up on that platform to resonate this challenge once again. With our culturally diverse cast, that was not only African and Caribbean, we became one voice in proclaiming that this challenge is not just to us but to everybody else. I would like to speak on two major criticisms concerning our performance.

A friend commented to the fact of us having our "white" and non-African friends put on African clothes and speak to issues about "black" people. This play illustrated the objectives of the African and Caribbean Students Association at the University of Chicago. We are a celebration of culture and heritage, not of skin color or questioning whether one is originally from Africa or not. If one is interested in us and the issues we are talking about, we will give them a seat at our table. So was the case with our cast. I applaud the non-black cast of this show, especially because they had the hardest time stepping into their roles. This was not just a performance; this was a conversation that was natural to some of us but not to them. It took a lot for them to stand up on that stage. They are the ones who put in the hardest work. Their dedication and professionalism is was very exceptional.

Another sentiment that rose was the idealism surrounding this play. There are people who had reason to understand our main efforts as those to dispel the stereotypes that Africans has been vulnerable to for the longest time in history. I was bluntly told in one conversation that this is not going to happen. There is a long history attached to these stereotypes, a history of colonialism, race and a whole lot of other issues. I was told that overcoming it with one show was just not going to happen. On that day I felt like a lost cause. I shut myself in the bathroom and shed tears of anguish. A lot of sacrifices were made for this show by the cast which inadvertently affected all facets of our college lives. The sacrifices were one thing, but being told that all you strive for as an organization is faceless just did not sit well with me! I refused to believe that my home is a lost cause. Such sentiments tore my heart.

But this is what I am going to say after having performed on the show. The people that came to our show were a mixed crowd. Like I said before, some harassed us to buy tickets and for other reasons. All may have walked out of that performance thinking what a great show it was, and gone to sleep, as was predicted by the sentiments above. Gone to sleep and forgotten about us. But we did not forget. When one is performing on stage, the lighting makes you blind to the audience, in addition to the nervousness and trying to get your lines and cues right. But the truth is when I was on that stage I did not see anyone or anything, but the future. What I am saying is that I would not have cared if I had performed that show to half a room, or even five people (It would have sucked for our finances though). But this show was more than just looking for an audience to please. It was about us and our past, present and future. I am sick of having somebody else talk about the issues about my country over coffee, and exclaim "ah life is tough", and move on to the next conversation. I stood up there to say it myself, and exclaim "ah life is tough", but it is my life. I acknowledge it and I want to do something to make it better. I am sure my sentiments resonate in the whole cast for "I Will Marry When I Want."

The above sentiments made me ask, what is wrong with hoping for something better for my family, what is wrong with having a passion? Being on that stage all these questions were answered for me. That hope is my driving force. I am slaving away in this school in the hope of going home again someday, and I want a home to go back to. A pediatrician and geneticist, with a practice that will reduce the number of children's deaths due to AIDS and related sicknesses. I think the objective of the African and Caribbean Students Association is right on point, and we shall continue carrying the torch of hope, being the future of our countries, academically and professionally.

Finally I would like to thank groups from other colleges that attended our show. Kola from Africans in Alliance at UIC, Change from African Students Association at Loyola, and Nancy Fru from African Students Association at Northwestern. We all walked out of this show with more than what we walked in with. The greatest of these gifts is the friendships that we gained from being there. It was a hard four months putting the show together. We cried and laughed together, screamed at each other and urged each other on. We may have been only fifteen people but we were fifteen people with a purpose. And we are going to keep carrying that purpose in our lives. The hope for a better Africa.

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