My husband received an invitation to celebrate Mashujaa Day (Heroes Day) at State House. We figured, ‘why not go?’ We haven’t got much else on. 20th October used to mark Kenyatta Day, but since last year it was decided that it's better to celebrate a more generic heroes day instead.
Working out what to wear was tricky. My husband said,
“it’s Kenya, you could wear anything you like.”
At the time I made a “tsk” sound and yanked yet more dusty wedding guest style clothes from the cupboard. Suffice to say, there were jackets that have not seen the light of day since the 1990s.
Before leaving my husband got a text from a KC mate. ‘What are u guys up to?’
‘Going to state house for tea.’
‘What the hell are you putting yourselves through that for, you plonker.’ Was the response.
I looked outside; it was raining, thundering as well. Suddenly the idea of going to State house was less appealing. My husband and I looked at one another. “Are we mad?” We asked. “Shall we just stay at home?”
But cancelling at this late stage seemed churlish, so we tooled along to State House – umbrella in hand. I have to admit that I felt something of a rush to drive up through the main gate to the colonial (built 1907) white washed edifice. There were lots of people in uniforms, smart suits, fleets of shiny Mercedes, red number plates everywhere. White tents were arranged around four sides of an acre of clear lawn.
We were shown to Area E. There was a program on each chair. After selecting a couple of chicken wings, fish fingers and spring rolls from the Sarova Hotel chaffing dishes we carefully selected a dry seat (rain dripped through the tent here and there). Meanwhile Kibaki, Raila, Kalonzo and the various VIPS in attendance, having emerged along a red carpet from their ‘sit down’ lunch, took their places in the rather more substantial looking ‘top tent’ to watch the entertainment. It was hard to see them properly. There must have been a thousand people there.
The outfits of fellow guests did turn out to be varied. I noticed that in the roped off area next to us, everyone had been allocated packed lunches in white cardboard boxes. Scouts came round intermittently to collect soda bottles and rubbish. There were ladies in shiny suits, headdresses, Sunday best and mixed in with others wearing jeans. The majority of men were wearing suits. Along the row along from us were two ladies in brown leather robes embroidered with cowrie shells holding cleft sticks and there was a man in a real colobus monkey skin cloak.
Entertainment was mainly choral (mostly school choirs) with a couple of traditional dances thrown in. The Indian girls from Oshwal School suffered from a technical malfunction when their music cut out. Others lost the mike from time to time. I noticed that a lot more ‘acts’ had snuck into the formal order of events and looked at my watch more than once. My husband was reading a book that he’d downloaded onto his mobile phone. After half a dozen choirs, a couple of old men came on to sing. Apparently they were real heroes with a talent for music (again, not listed on the program of events). The MC announced:
‘And here is yet another mzee (old person)’.
As one act finished, another filed on, then another and another. I watched the a dozen large brown kites circle overhead and watched the grey clouds move off, then thanked goodness that it was cool. I had sat on a wet patch and wondered if my white skirt had gone see-through. I saw a big school choir waiting then have to admit to feelings of relief when they were turned back due to time constraints. Time had obviously run over. We’d been entertained for a solid hour and a half by this point, apparently this was enough for even President Kibaki.
Next dance troupes, choirs and ‘heroes’ took their positions along the periphery ropes to greet President Kibaki and other ‘leaders’ who were getting ready to go ‘walk about’ with about 20 body guards and other supporters in tow, progressing slowly around 3 sides of the square. Ululating, drumming and whistles blowing, many of the dancers were in fantastic regional dress, but again, too far away to see properly. As we took our places by the rope, my husband found a chair in the front row with his name on. We would definitely have got dripped on there.
“Oh well” I said, “shall we go home.”
A few individuals were already filing out. Only prayers and a closing hymn were left on the program. We snuck out before the crush.
An interesting experience, but admittedly not one that I’ll be in a hurry to repeat soon.