An old man sits on a sidewalk in downtown Nairobi, his legs splayed out in front of him. Between his bare big toes is stretched a rawhide loop on which two bone puppets dance to the music of a homemade tin can guitar, as the griot begins another tale. In a government-supplied house on a northern reserve, with plastic sheeting on the windows, and a satellite dish on the roof, an elder sits at a sloping kitchen table. Her voice barely above a whisper, she speaks to a young child who moves restlessly about, waiting for cartoons to start. The room darkens as Raven spreads his great wings and begins another adventure. The child is suddenly still, listening to the story. I walk into a classroom full of kids still buzzing from their session in the computer lab. I begin, “Mukashi, mukashi, long, long, ago in Japan…” Water drips from the ceiling of a cave, muffled footsteps descend stone stairs, and we all hold our collective breath waiting to see what will happen next.
I believe in the power of stories. I am a storyteller. I am part of a tradition that stretches back along song lines and story vines to the first voices that filled the air under an equatorial sun. It is my profession, my art form, the ‘gift’ I’ve been given in this life. My mentors teach me this, and I have been blessed with some very wise and socially conscious guides along this journey. They also teach me that I have definite responsibilities, the most important one being to do the most that I can with the power I’ve been given. And stories do indeed have power; the power to deepen understanding, the power to heal, the power to inspire compassion, and the power to maintain a sense of wonder in the world. Stories connect us to the past, lead us through the present, and prepare us for the future. The further I travel on this path it seems, the greater the need becomes to turn to stories for comfort, solace, and guidance. From prenatal, to palliative care, the need is always there. Stories are the glue that holds humanity together. Without stories, we might just break apart and go flying off in a billion different directions. This I believe.
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