The Goethe Institut funded project Reading in Unusual Spaces saw readers descend on Langata Women’s Prison in Nairobi on February 11, 2017.
People read in all sorts of spaces in all sorts of situations; some of these periods can be either during very positive or not such “positive” ones. Nigeria for instance are the folks that gave us Grill and Read this past year where people come to a barbeque and get to meet their friends and read. This event has since spun into “Speed Date and Read” which allows you to possibly your one true love over a book. It works I suppose as I suspect that hooking up with a reader can’t be all bad hey?
In the last year, the Goethe Institut in Nairobi introduced a new concept in Nairobi; Reading in Unusual Spaces. Moderated by Miles Morland Scholar 2013 Tony Mochama, the idea is for people converge at spaces that aren’t too well known for public reading. Some of the places that have featured in this unique project in the past include Uhuru Park our national park in the centre of the city, the Nairobi Arboretum and even the notorious Sabina Joy famous as one of Nairobi’s less fashionable nightspots.
On Saturday February 11th , as Nairobi was in the throes of Valentine Day fever, thirty people landed at the Langata Women’s Prison in the Southern part of the East African capital. They were there to read with the inmates of a prison with a population of just under 600. This population includes both inmates and a few dozen of their children.
After getting in, leaving phones at the gate, the readers walked through the prison which is a serene environment; if you get your prison experiences from watching Oz and Prison Break then you are in for disappointment. What you see are about a dozen one story buildings which house 20 to 40 inmates. The inmates were in striped white and black dresses with some sunning themselves.
We eventually made it to a two storey building which hosts the library which was opened last year. After snacks and tea, we would sit with a couple dozen inmates that we learnt were now called “clients.” The NGOs and their renaming of things to sound more politically correct continues even in the Kenyan government system.
The readings then begun with selected texts being read by both visitors and inma… sorry clients. The text selected were a bit dire in this bloggers opinion. Prison letters from Nelson Mandela to his daughters. The Dandelion by Wolfgang Borchert. First Cell, First Love an excerpt from The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Letters From Prison by Rosa Luxemburg. A Stranger In My Own Country – The 1944 Prison Diary by Hans Fallada. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption a novella by Stephen King. It was all very bleak that reading. Relief came in the form of writers in the audience reading excerpts from their own work as well as poet Adipo Sidang performing some very cool poetry.
With the readings done and dusted, there was a ceremony where books were donated to the library at the prison. Here are a few more images from the events on the day.