Review: Justice for Malindi Ayienga

by Lynn on October 1, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

Playing in a private backyard in Barrie, Ont. Sept. 30-Oct. 1, 2020.

Part of The Plural of She Festival.

Created and performed by Malindi Ayienga

This was the first performance of a world premiere of Justice for Malindi Ayienga by Malindi Ayienga, a wonderfully talented theatre-maker.

She created and performs  the show.

Malindi Ayienga appears gently holding a wrapped bundle of something to her chest. She carefully kneels and puts the bundle on the floor of the porch and delicately unwraps three vibrant pieces of material, revealing many notebooks and other kinds of books. She straightens out the material and places the books in an ordered way along the surface. We learn these are the diaries she kept/keeps beginning in 2007 when she was 10 and in Grade 5.

Malindi Ayienga says her mother is white and her father is Kenyan. She is therefore of mixed race. She tells her story by referencing the various diaries she kept over time.  She reads from them with youthful joy but with twinges of insight, even subtext.  She talks about the various friends she has and that one of them says that she can’t play with her. Ayienga thinks that perhaps it’s because she’s black. She slides over that line with delicacy and quickness but you are pricked by that stinging information.

She tells us again reading from her diaries of a crush she had on a boy and how he broke her heart, but then he treated her well so she changed her mind. Like any young person she forgave him and yearned for him to like her.

You get a sense that sometimes she didn’t know where she fit in. But her awakening came when she went to Kenya to see her father’s family and learn about those roots. She was considered white in Kenya because her mother was white. In Canada she was considered black because her skin is black. You can imagine how these perceptions could play with a person’s head.

Ayienga learned that in Kenya if a young girl had her period the girl was shamed by having to sit at the back of the classroom, on a bench covered in sand.  A girl would be shamed by her mother as well and told to go to the river to wash her bloody undergarments.  So rather than this being treated as a natural thing, the girl was shamed.

Ayienga heard of one young girl who committed suicide from the humiliation of menstruating because she was not taught about this normal bodily function by their mothers or teachers. In the telling of this segment Ayienga was overcome with emotion.

And Malindi Ayienga’s political awareness, her moral fiber and compassion were developed there in Kenya as well. She decided that she would tell young girls that getting their period was a natural bodily function for young women and nothing to be ashamed of. Her father translated for her into Kiswahili so the girls would understand.  Ayienga said you could see just by someone telling them of this natural function that they didn’t feel shame any more.

She and a group of friends co-founded Diva Day International to fund-raise and send Diva Cups to Kenya for when girls got their periods so they did not have to be ostracised. Ayienga’s tenacity with all the things that could go wrong with such an endeavor makes you shake your head in amazement at the resolve of one so young.  

She talks of being a ‘foreigner’ in Kenya and her efforts to find her place there. She explored  aspects in her life that are similar to that of the women in Kenya.  Because she is so eloquent a theatre creator, so poetic a writer about things that are tough and hard to hear, she embraces the audience and conveys what it must be like to be searching for ways to fit into the worlds she lives in.

She talks about racism without preaching. She notes that we all could and should do better. She says it with grace and generosity. She notes that no one can decide or tell you who you are by the colour of your skin, whether black or white. I loved the writing of the piece and so wished it was published because you want to refer to such wisdom again and again.

It speaks volumes that folks came out for this production they were so hungry for theatre,  because it was raining, rather hard at times. We were protected by the overhang of the porch. While Malindi Ayienga was microphoned, part of the dialogue was pre-recorded and the volume could/should be adjusted because occasionally the sound made the dialogue muddy. I’m sure this will be adjusted because what she has to say is too important to miss.

Malindi Ayienga is a gifted performer—I’ve been mighty impressed with her work in You and I and The Adventure of Pinocchio. She is an impassioned voice for “Black Lives Matter”—her YouTube segment in June on this subject was raw, emotional and shattering. She has something important to say and it’s clear in Justice for Malindi Ayienga. We would be wise to listen.  

I am so glad I saw the very first show of this wonderful piece.

Please check the Talk is Free Website for the schedule of The Plural of She Festival.

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