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Jun 06

Looking into the Abyss

Kristina struggles to keep her baby from crying. Her face shows despair. She wants to be gentle and loving but doesn’t know how. She is lost. No family to support her, her newborn baby hungry, the noise and chaos of the unfamiliar big city around offering no comfort to both lost innocent creatures. Kristina, She is scared. Desperate she searches for solace in any environment that can hide her from her reality. The cries of her baby are drowned out by the noise of club music and drunken conversation. Kristina steps forward and embraces the music. She has found her place. Found her peace away from the struggles. She dances. She is transformed. She is only a teenager.

Play Over.

Immediate Standing Ovation.

And then the audience sit back down.

I can hear sounds of sobbing throughout the audience. I am caught up, sitting with eyes wide open and have to take deep breaths to calm myself. The emotion played out in that last sequence, bringing to a powerful crescendo a story about two teenager girls married off at a young age, is overwhelming and has immobilised the audience. A minute passed before somebody had to tell us the play is over and we can leave. We all do in silence.

Looking into the Abyss is a story about traditions of child marriage in an African society and a ignorant patriarchal society that facilitates this. It unravels the reasons and powerfully demonstrates the consequences brought to life by two of Zimbabwe’s finest actresses and a wonderful supporting cast. Kristina is married off to secure privilege with a local business man. Lillian is married off as her family suffer from a bad few years of crop failure. Her father initially resisted but after pressure from her own brothers, she is married off so they can all gain the benefits. From this, for both girls, stories of exploitation and objectification, violent abuse, miscarriages, rejection from family, depression and accusations of infidelity emerge and repeat. The strength of these women to endure such a reality is laid in front of us. But this strength only brings both women so far as society and all those values and traditions envelop both ladies, finally restricting any chance of the simple freedom that they seek. We, the audience, want to bring them there but we can’t.

Weeks later, I still get goosebumps thinking about this final sequence. We were taken on a journey and at the last scene, we were in that club with Kristina wanting her to leave, to hear her abandoned child cry, to see her be the mother she truly wanted to be. For me as an outsider and observer to an African society, I hear about these stories so many times from friends working in support groups for women and various community development projects. This is the story of millions of women across Africa.

As I walked out from the theatre, I awoke stepped back into our real world and I noticed that the majority of the crowd leaving are white. Either white Zimbabweans or tourists. All I thought was this message should just a reminder for us of the vital aspect of responsibility of parenting and equality within families. But this message, this story needs to be shown to every man, both black or white, in Africa, every man who considers these values to be a respected part of traditions to reveal to them the consequences of these actions. For African women, they know the consequences. Its an all too familiar story.

This play, at HIFA 2013, was easily the stand out show of the whole festival. When asked at the end of the week, what was my favourite show, I said this one. Those who had also seen it told me with their eyes and a deep breath that it was theirs too.

No words were needed.

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