All feminists and anti-feminists should have gone to see Heartstrings Kenya’s Forget me not last weekend at Nairobi Cinema.
It’s difficult to critique this show without being a spoiler. But as Heartstrings rarely repeats their productions, normally moving on to dramatise and satirise the latest trend in Kenya’s current social ether, this review can hardly keep quiet about a topic that’s so close to my heart. That being women, especially ones who refuse to be victims, who take their lives into their own hands and cherish their freedom.
It’s a relatively new breed of woman. She can be found in any country, culture, religion or profession. She is also one who has learned not to be submissive to the will of anyone who wants to dominate her.
Yet what Forget me not shows us is that daring women can also be adversely influenced by social forces operative in a society mired in corruption, as Kenya sadly is. That’s not to say the reckless Nairobbery-style of Kenya women that were portrayed in the play are to be let off the hook for being criminals as corrupt and ruthless as any mafia-man.
But it is to say that corruption is an equal opportunity employer. For both women as well as men can be preoccupied with fast money, be it derived from bribery, trafficking in women and children, murder, blackmail and fraud of the highest order.
One point of the play that could sting feminists especially is the distortion of the concept of sisterhood. For the women in Forget me not all applaud ‘the power of women’ that they share. They clearly have mutual affection for one another. That’s apparent as they gather together first for the funeral of Vitalis Chipakupaku whose widow Fiona (Adelyne Wairimu) seems to genuinely mourn. Then second is at her spacious home which her female friends all see as reflecting a social rung upward from where she had been living before she married ‘Pukky’, her dead spouse.
But the first gathering already suggests that these women are phoney mourners, including Pastor Bernice (Mackrine Andala) who was a professional Luo funeral weeper before she got into her current line of drama. Now, she pretends to be a charismatic preacher who taps into her congregation’s tithes to build herself a mansion among other luxury items.
It’s at the second gathering of ‘women power’ at Fiona’s home that all their true colours come out. Most of them have polished off their hubbies to gain access to their wealth. What we also see is that their sense of ‘sisterhood’ is all about doing dirty business deals together, such as trafficking children and women across porous borders, with aid from a Ugandan MP friend.
The women are shameless and actually proud of their skills in bribing, blackmailing and all other brands of dirty deals that they do together. In fact, Bernice has just set up a children’s home (which she’ll milk for donor money) and is looking to them to help her get it off the ground.
But as much as Heartstrings has their finger on the pulse of Kenya’s criminality, they are also prepared to challenge the wicked with a surprising sense of ethics and morality. In Forget me not, it takes the form of Fiona turning on the ‘sisters’ and telling them how she’s actually an undercover agent who’s been watching and recording their dirty deals for the past few years.
Now she feels it’s the time to bring them to justice since the Census man (Fischer Maina) nearly blew her cover when he declared he’d already recorded details on a man named Vitalis Chipakupaku.
That is when Fiona realised she needed to act fast before that news sparked the sisters’ curiosity and compelled them to confirm or refute the census man’s claim.
But she didn’t expose her true identity until the police had come and the sisters had no time to escape. By then, she blasted them for their duplicity, hypocrisy and shocking disregard for human decency.
For some feminists, this show will be seen as a gross misinterpretation of feminism. But no one need dispute the sad fact that criminality can cut either way. Both women and men can be slickers and hustlers. But thank heaven for Fiona who still had a conscience, and even Babs (Bernice Nthenya) who wanted out of her part in their ‘Ms Mafia Kenya gang’.
Forget me not was indeed a hilarious comedy but also one that had persuasive moral implications.