Market Price is a deeply touching tragedy and truthful reckoning of the lives of women and girls in the slums of Korogocho.
It’s young men’s story too, since survival is everybody’s issue. But it was women and girls that Back to Basic’s (B2B) Mbeki Mwalimu went out to meet and listen to after premiering B2B's original script late last year, and then unceremoniously cancelling the remainder of the shows up until this past weekend.
It will remain a mystery as to why the cancellation. Suffice it to say that as I was fortunate to see that premiere, I can confirm that while the story has been streamlined a bit, there is a richer development of characters this time around.
That is especially true for Zamzam (Mary Mwikali), her alcoholic mother (Lucy Wache), her best friend Nicole (Shivishe Shivisi) and the younger Zamzam (Chadota Sandra), whose dramatisation of the pivotal early moments in the elder Zamzam’s life is poignant and powerful, but also profoundly painful to see.
“We sat with the women for hours and listened carefully to all they were willing to share with us,” Mbeki tells the BDLife.
Included in those listening sessions were the show’s director Wakio Mzenge and its scriptwriter Sauma Kombo.
So while it was Mbeki’s initial idea to develop the script based on true stories shared by the women, the script came into being as a collaboration among the B2B women who developed the ideas and then, Sauma was given the task of weaving them into the story of Market Price.
That story focuses on Zamzam whose story unfolds as she unravels it for a naïve freelance writer, Clarita (Valentine Njeru) who’s come to the slums apparently for the first time in her life.
She’s utterly unprepared for what she hears and she never quite gets the drift that she is sitting with seasoned prostitutes who have been surviving on the ‘market price’ of their trade since childhood.
And even up to now, they practice prostitution just as their mothers did before them.
With impeccable synchronicity, director Wakio managed to link sound, lighting, and story to take us straight from the elder Zamzam’s mouth into the heart of her early life.
We’re transported through time and space into Zamzam’s tough early world.
It all takes place on the same stage, even as there are four separate sets, each appropriately designed to convey slum life as reality.
There’s the Korogocho garbage dump at the far end of the stage; then Zamzam’s one-room hovel; then the street where trafficking of goods (including girls like Zamzam) takes place, and finally comes Zamzam’s current room where the so-called ‘content provider’ had come to interview and write a story on Zamzam.
The set is amazing, but it’s from here that we see some of the fascinating changes made between the early version of the play and the one we saw last weekend.
The first major change is the development of Zamzam’s mama who is just as cruel and alcoholic as she was in the first round. But now, she revives, which she didn’t before.
“The mama has to wake up and work when her booze runs out,” Saumu explains.
That is why there’s an eye-opening scene in which the little girl has now figured out that since she has to eat, and her mom won’t provide, she has to join the legion of women who earn their living by selling their bodies.
We meet her arriving home after being with a man and washing her private parts. After that, she immediately goes out to do it all over again.
In seconds, her mother arrives home and does the exact same ritual of cleaning her private parts and then getting out to go looking for more business opportunities.
What Market Price does so well is to demystify the life and evolution of a sex worker.
By revealing the transformation of a little girl who truly had few choices of career paths in her life, one has to appreciate the bravery and resilience of Zamzam.
Her mother’s story further exposed the vulnerability of women and girls living in poverty.
So does Nicole’s experience of men not paying up after a sex worker provides her services.
Zamzam vows it won’t happen to her. But after she became a gun-runner, she is cheated out of her fee, so she fights back and is nearly killed in the process.
Many thanks to B2B for telling Zamzam’s story respectfully, empathetically, and with recognition of her beauty despite the hardship she’s incurred.