The day after we arrived in Tanzania, the whole family descended on our house for Christmas dinner ~ 80 some relatives spanning 4 generations, playing, feasting, meeting and reconnecting. By the time evening came, there were about 30 remaining who wanted to see the film. So we got the room set up for what was to be our most intense screening yet.
Auntie Ndereriosa was there. Her estranged, abusive husband sat two seats away. My cousin Dalton (Awonyisa’s son), whom I hadn’t seen in years, was there with his wife and young girl. (This was Dalton’s 2nd time seeing the film. Read about his profound response to hearing his mother’s story for the first time HERE.) My cousins whom I had followed around with my camera nine years ago as they did their chores were all there.
I have always struggled when it comes to understanding the non-verbal cues of my Chagga family. So I knew sitting in the room with them while the film was playing would be too much for me. My parents and Tom remained for the screening, and afterwards they struggled to decipher the meaning behind the giggling whenever my Aunts’ spoke. And because of the language barrier, I knew much of the humor would be lost, as well as the weight of Mom and Dad’s conversation towards the end.
After the screening, I was curious to hear what my family thought of the film. My Aunt stood up to speak. Her thoughts echoed her sentiments in the film. Referring to her sister, she said, “There we were two. Now I am one.” She shared that she really wasn’t sure the day would ever come when she could finally unburden her heart and speak her truth. But telling her story liberated her from the heavy load she was carrying. And she was finally able to let it go.
Her statement was all the more profound given that she was standing only feet away from her husband. I was moved by her strength, and relieved that she felt that our film did her story justice. To receive her blessing for this film and the work it’s doing in the world was more than enough for me.
Other family members asked if there were more films planned for the future where other aspects of Chagga culture would be explored. They wanted to see films about what life was like in America, so there could be a reciprocal exchange of cultures. They asked if copies of the film could be made available to family members—to which I replied of course! It seems only fair that they should have their own copy, given that this film could not have existed without them.
Then again, I also knew that the full meaning of our story was largely lost on this crowd. But our ability to understand and appreciate is often limited by our own experience. And as this film moves out into the world, I am learning to let go of how it is received, and opening myself up to the reality that people will connect to the parts of our story that reflect their own experience. For some, ours is the story of a survivor speaking her truth and finding connection with the other survivors in her family. For others, it’s the story of a mixed-race kid trying to understand her ties to her parents’ cultures.
And for my family, perhaps the value of this film, on this particular Christmas night, was getting to see and hear from their parents/siblings who have since passed away. (Of the six Kimaro siblings in the film, only three remain.)
And while I would love for my family to understand and appreciate the finer shades of our story…perhaps for the purposes of this screening, for this gathering, offering this chance to reconnect with those who are no longer with us is enough.
Coming up, we have 3 more screenings:
– Jan 7 @7:30pm: Century Cineplex at Njiro Complex in Arusha.
– Jan. 8 @7:30pm: Slipway Cinema in Dar es Salaam
– Jan. 9 @7pm: St. Margaret’s Church in Moshi